A high-profile Taiwanese anti-nuclear activist began a hunger strike on Tuesday to protest construction of the island's fourth nuclear power plant, in what could become another challenge for the already beleaguered President Ma Ying-jeou.
Lin Yi-xiong, the former chairman of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party and a longtime anti-nuclear activist, vowed to sustain on only water until the government suspends construction of the northern Taipei plant.
Less than 24 hours after Mr. Lin began his strike, both Mr. Ma and Premier Jiang Yi-hua tried to visit him, only to be turned away. Hunger strikes aren't uncommon in the oft-fractious island, but Mr. Lin is the first striker who has received personal attention from the president and the cabinet leader.
With virtually no natural resources of its own, Taiwan imports more than 95% of its energy, with much of it coming from Australia, the Middle East and Africa. The government argues that with the island's three existing nuclear plants going offline in phases by 2025, a fourth plant is necessary to ensure energy security. Last year, the government agreed to hold a national referendum to decide the plant's fate, but the timing of the vote hasn't yet been decided and meanwhile construction is continuing.
Nuclear energy is a contentious issue that has divided Taiwan for more than two decades. Opponents, spurred by the 2013 Fukushima nuclear disaster, say the new plant is riddled with safety problems and that the earthquake-prone island should instead focus on developing alternative forms of energy. The government maintains that the plant is safe.
Shortly before he began his protest, Mr. Lin told the press he was 'sorry my 20 years of efforts have failed to move those in power.'
Analysts say that given his clout and the public's already-ballooning opposition to nuclear power, Mr. Ma's ruling Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang, would face more arduous battles ahead of local elections later this year if Mr. Lin dies as a result of his hunger strike.
Mr. Ma--whose approval rating is currently 14%, according to a poll by Taiwan Indicator Survey Research--relied on his accommodative China policies to win re-election in 2012. But these same policies have also become his Achilles heels recently, with more people questioning whether the warmer trade ties with China have benefited Taiwan's average workers.
In mid-March, the growing doubts over closer ties with China ignited Taiwan's longest-running student protest, which left the legislature paralyzed for 24-days. Mr. Lin was an outspoken supporter for the movement.
At 73, Mr. Lin is regarded across party lines as one of the most influential political figures in Taiwan since the 1970s. As a dissident, he was jailed multiple times during the island's martial law era (1949-87).
In 1980, while Mr. Lin was imprisoned as a dissident, his mother and his seven-year old twin daughters were found stabbed to death in the basement of their home. His oldest daughter survived the attack with severe injuries. The case remain unsolved, and the house, which has been turned into a church, is where Mr. Lin is staging his fast.
'If I die, please wrap me up with the bed sheet and put me inside the crematory. Place my ashes in the old unwanted bottle lying around in the house. You will be sad over Dad's death, but I hope the shorter the duration will be, the better,' Mr. Lin wrote in an open letter to his surviving daughter.
Other anti-nuclear activists plan to join Mr. Lin in protest by staging a demonstration in front the Presidential Office on Saturday.
Presidential Office of Republic of China台湾总统马英九写给林义雄的字条。
据台湾指标调查研究公司(Taiwan Indicators Survey Research)的民调显示，马英九当前的支持率为14%。2012年马英九凭藉他开放的中国大陆政策赢得连任。但如今这些政策也成为他的软肋，越来越多的人质疑两岸加强贸易合作到底有没有让台湾普通工人受益。