TAIPEI — Tens of thousands of people marched in Taipei Sunday in an unusually large rally against the island’s president. Angry Taiwanese called to the streets by the major opposition party say President Ma Ying-jeou has refused to make changes that would improve economic conditions for workers.
Protesters shouted for President Ma to leave office as they marched through central Taipei. Some people beat drums and flashed ceremonial knives to vent their anger. One group pushed empty baby strollers to protest the high cost of raising children. They also asked President Ma to reconsider utility price hikes and scrap part of a retirement system for government employees.
Opposition Democratic Progressive Party Deputy Secretary-General Lin You-chang says a six-month backlog of unmet demands led to the event Sunday.
He says these sources of public anger have been accumulating, making now the right time to call for action.
President Ma has been in office since 2008 and was re-elected in 2012 for a second and, by law, final term. His Nationalist Party also controls parliament.
Organizers placed the protest head count at 150,000, though outside estimates put the figure closer to 50,000.
Younger Taiwanese say housing prices are too high for first-time buyers in two of the island’s biggest cities. Those worries followed reports in 2011 of a widening wealth gap, one reason that lower middle-class couples give for not having babies.
State-controlled electricity and gasoline prices both went up last year, as well. The opposition also says that 80 percent of Taiwanese want the government to cut back an old scheme for annual bonuses for retired military and civil servants.
A recent poll by local television network TVBS found the president’s approval rating just 13 percent, the lowest since he took office. Chen Yu-liu, a 49-year-old housewife who is out of work, says labor issues have stirred public anger.
She says retirement schemes are flawed. Common laborers do not get anything, and people have to put off retirement. College graduates can not find work and salaries have fallen for 14 years, Chen adds, citing a long list of problems.
The government expects 2012 economic growth to come in at less than 2 percent, slower than original forecasts. Officials point to a weak global economy, which in turn cools demand for Taiwanese exports such as machinery and consumer electronics.
President Ma has looked largely to Taiwan’s old political rival China for trade, transit and investment deals that could propel the island economy. The two sides have signed 18 accords, boosting two-way trade to $100 billion in the first 10 months of last year. The president’s spokesman said Sunday that Ma had no comment on the rally.