Protests as Taiwan parliament pushes reforms

MPs in Taiwan have jostled, unfurled banners and shouted at each other in a dispute about efforts to widen parliamentary oversight pushed by the opposition, despite the anger of the ruling party, which says there has been no consultation.

The squabble comes as Lai Ching-te took office on Monday as the new president, facing not only an angry China, which views him as a “separatist”, but also a fractured parliament, after his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lost its majority .

Several hundred people gathered outside parliament on Tuesday to protest against the reforms, and accused the opposition of working in concert with China and trying to kill democracy.

The two main opposition parties, the Kuomintang (KMT) and Taiwan People’s Party (TPP), which together have enough seats for a majority, have joined hands to back reforms that give parliament greater scrutiny over the government.

That includes a controversial proposal for MPs to punish officials deemed to commit contempt of parliament for making false statements or “withholding information”, which the DPP says lacks a clear definition.

While there was no repeat of Friday’s scenes of legislators punching and wrestling each other in the chamber, DPP MPs wearing headbands reading “Democracy has died” demanded more discussions on the proposals and vented their anger at the KMT.

“On the speaker’s platform today is not the KMT or the TPP. It’s Xi Jinping,” DPP caucus whip Ker Chien-ming told the chamber, referring to China’s president.

His remarks prompted shouts of “Shut up!” from the opposition camp, some of whom brandished signs reading “Reforming parliament, let sunshine in.”

The KMT accused the DPP of trying to “spread rumors and paint them red”, the colors of China’s ruling Communist Party, in a bid to stifle the reforms.

Taiwanese drag queen Nymphia Wind, the winner of this year’s RuPaul’s Drag Race, appeared briefly at the protest rally to offer support.

“I respect parliament, but I hope parliament can do things that we respect and respect our democratic procedures,” she said. “As a Taiwanese citizen, I think we must stand up.”

The proposals “overly expand” the power of the MPs, Chang Hung-lin, the head of Citizen Congress Watch, told Reuters, although the group backs an existing effort to give parliament more government oversight.

The proposals, some of which passed a second reading on Tuesday, give MPs the right to demand parties such as defense officials and private companies testify in parliament without proper checks and balances, Chang said.

“This is harmful to our administrative power and the judiciary,” he said.