Home News Why Taiwan’s legislators are arguing and citizens are protesting

Why Taiwan’s legislators are arguing and citizens are protesting


Taiwan’s opposition lawmakers on Tuesday pushed through bills that could challenge the power of new President Lai Ching-te, ignoring tens of thousands of his supporters who have taken to the streets in recent days to protest.

The bill proposed by Jimmy Lai’s opponents was passed just over a week after he took office. Taking officehighlighting the challenges he will face in pursuing his agenda without a legislative majority. In the January election, the opposition Kuomintang and the Taiwan People’s Party combined won more seats in the 113 legislature than Jimmy Lai’s Democratic Progressive Party.

The bill, backed by the two main opposition parties, would expand the legislature’s investigative powers over the government. Jimmy Lai’s supporters have accused the opposition of overstepping its authority and serving the interests of the Chinese Communist Party, which claims Taiwan as its territory. Legislators from the Kuomintang and the Taiwan People’s Party have denied the allegations, and Jimmy Lai’s officials have not produced evidence that Beijing orchestrated the bill.

The debate in the Legislative Council intensified as politicians bickered with each other and members of Jimmy Lai’s party plastered protest signs on the floor and walls of the Legislative Council.

The legislative changes will give lawmakers more power to question senior government officials and demand internal documents. The amendments will also empower lawmakers to punish officials for contempt of court, including by refusing to answer questions or hand over documents.

The amendments, and the divisions they expose, could limit Jimmy Lai’s ability to push major initiatives on domestic issues and threaten to undermine efforts by both parties to maintain broad unity on defense priorities.

“I really think this also sets the tone for what we might see in the future, which is chaos,” said Lev Nachman, a political science professor at National Chengchi University in Taipei. “These new laws could have real geopolitical implications for Taiwan and its role in the region,” he said, citing the debate over Taiwan’s military spending as an example.

Lai’s Kuomintang, which stressed Taiwan’s independent identity, believes Taiwan should avoid conflict by expanding trade and other ties with the mainland. The Taiwan People’s Party generally advocates a more pragmatic approach to Beijing.

Although the KMT denied being influenced by Beijing, many of the protesters gathered outside the Legislative Council remained unmoved.

“I cherish my way of life, and I don’t want to be on the same side as the Chinese Communist regime,” said Zhan Fang-yu, a 24-year-old screenwriter in Taipei who supports formal independence for Taiwan. “I feel that such protests are not only against the bill, but also an ideological struggle.”

Opposition politicians have accused Jimmy Lai’s DPP of trying to cover up possible corruption and mismanagement and stoking unfounded fears of meddling by Beijing. They have also pointed out that when the DPP was in opposition, it supported proposals to give the legislature more oversight powers.

“We once again strongly urge the DPP government to return power to the people, carry out Legislative Council reforms and let the sunshine into the Legislative Council,” Fu Kun-chi, a Kuomintang legislator who has taken the lead in pushing for Legislative Council reforms, told reporters on Monday.

Lai and other DPP politicians accused the KMT of ignoring democratic procedures to push through legislation, and some legal experts have raised similar concerns. Lai won the presidential election under Taiwan’s first-past-the-post electoral system with just over 40 percent of the vote, which the KMT said lacked mainstream support, even though the KMT candidate received an even lower 33.5 percent.

“I believe more and more Taiwanese people are aware that if this bill is passed, it will pose a great danger to our national security,” said Shen Puma, a member of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party.

Lai could refuse to sign the revised bill, and experts say Taiwan’s Constitutional Court is likely to rule that at least some of the legislature’s expanded powers are unconstitutional.

The divisions suggest Jimmy Lai could face trouble in pushing through domestic priorities such as health insurance and pension reforms, where he needs a majority in the legislature to approve new laws.

As president, Lai controls overall military policy, but opposition lawmakers may question or block some budget proposals that affect the military. In particular, special military expenditure bills, which the Taiwanese government uses to pay for its massive weapons spending, may be harder to pass under the scrutiny of Kuomintang and Taiwan People’s Party lawmakers, who often accuse the government of wasting money.

Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican who visited Taipei this week as chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he would be concerned if the KMT began to block Lai’s proposals on Taiwan’s defense. Previous recommendations Nationalist leaders have strongly denied the allegation.

“It’s really concerning if they start to develop cracks,” Mr. McCaul said in an interview.

Katie Edmondson Taipei contributed reporting.

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