Large Scale Protests Occur Throughout Taiwan Due to New Legislative Laws

On May 28th, the Kuomintang (KMT) and the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP)-controlled Legislative Yuan passed five laws that would expand the legislature’s powers to increase their powers. The KMT said that the new laws are needed to enhance government oversight for better accountability and transparency. The political party also accused the DPP “of not being accountable to the public during its past eight years in power.” Politicians from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) fought with politicians from the KMT and TPP during the first reading of the laws on May 17th.

KMT and DPP lawmakers fighting inside Legislative Yuan during 1st reading of the laws (Central News Agency/Weng Ruikun)

The fights resulted in six DPP lawmakers going to a local hospital due to injuries. The politicians also voiced their dissent during the second and third readings by yelling at the KMT and TPP politicians, blocking the legislature’s entrances to prevent the opposition parties from entering, and throwing blue trash bags at the politicians as the amendments were passed into law. Several other Taiwanese political parties also organized and led protests in Taipei and other cities on the island. The protests are in response to how the KMT and the TPP passed the laws without holding the review and consultation stages of the process, their potential to infringe on people’s rights, and their potential unconstitutionality.

DPP politicians protest by holding and placing slogans on the legislature’s floor after the 2nd reading of laws on May 21st (Photo: Central News Agency/Weng Ruikun)

Protests Against the Laws

Several organizers held multiple protests against the new law during the readings of the bills on May 17th, 21st, 24th, and 28th. The demonstrations initially started at the Legislative Yuan but then spread to the surrounding roadways that surround the area. The protesters shouted various slogans, such as “no discussions, no democracy” and “review the bill again,” during the demonstrations. They also held signs with phrases such as “I hold the Legislature in contempt” and “Congress of abuse of power and democratic regression.” Other protesters also held up white lilies during the protests to show their support.

Protest holding white lily during protest to show support for the demonstrations against the new laws (Central News Agency/Zhao Shixun)

Chi-Nan Presbyterian Church and other nearby buildings allowed protesters to enter and watch live streams of speeches various protest leaders made during heavy rainstorms. The organizers, including the Taiwan Citizen Front, the Alliance of Referendum for Taiwan, the Taiwan Economic Democracy Union, and the Taiwan Citizen Front, said that 15,000 to over 100,000 people participated in the demonstrations. Local authorities closed off several roadways near the Legislative Yuan due to the protests spilling into the surrounding roadways. Numerous protesters also traveled from cities and towns in Taiwan, ranging from Taichung and Hualien.

Protesters holding up signs against new bills during outside parliament on May 28th (Central News Agency/Zheng Qingyuan)

Smaller protests occurred in various cities and counties throughout Taiwan, such as the cities of Taichung, Tainan, and Taitung. However, larger protests occurred in the southern city of Kaohsiung, with around 4,000 protesters gathering for the demonstration. A protest also occurred in the city of Hualien, located on the eastern coast of Taiwan, with several individuals gathering in the city’s square to protest the laws. Civic groups also led protests in cities on Penghu Island, such as Magong City, while KMT county legislators gave their support to the bills. Over a dozen domestic and overseas Taiwanese civil society groups, such as the Formosan Association for Public Affairs, the Taiwan Association for Human Rights, and the Taiwan-Hong Kong Union for Democracy, submitted petitions for the withdrawal of the bills. Local authorities in Taipei approved counterprotests by groups that supported the measures near the Legislative Yuan. The organizers of the protests stated that four DDP politicians were the reasons for the “unconstitutional efforts to block the bills.”

Hundreds of protesters gather during demonstration against new bills on Jinan Road outside the Legislative Yuan on May 28th (Photo: Central News Agency/Wang Feihua)

The New Laws

The five amendments to the Law on the Exercise of Powers of the Legislative Yuan will give investigative powers to the legislature. Among the new laws is the requirement for the president to deliver a State of the Union address every year on February 1st and answer any questions lawmakers may have. New presidents are also required to provide the legislature with a national report within two weeks of taking office. The presidents will then deliver another national report to the parliament within one month of taking office. Any government official, military officer, or businessman called to testify in one of the committees cannot present counter questions. The individuals also cannot refuse to answer questions, provide information, or engage in other acts that would be in contempt of Congress. Individuals that violate these rules will be subject to a fine ranging from approximately $600 USD (NT$20,000) to no more than $6,200 USD (NT$200,000).

Legislative President and KMT politician Han Guoyu stands at rostrum with other KMT lawmakers after the new laws expanding legislative powers passes on May 28th (Photo: Central News Agency/Wang Tengyi)

The laws also cover how the Legislative Yuan votes on the nominations for key government positions. Lawmakers will now vote by open ballot instead of a secret ballot, as they did previously. The review period for the nominations will take no less than one month, and a public hearing will be held during this time. Nominees who give false testimonies during the hearings will be fined between $600 USD (NT$20,000) and no more than $6,200 USD (NT$200,000). The legislature also expanded its investigative powers in several ways. The chamber can hold hearings to determine whether a nominee has violated any laws during their testimony. The Yuan can require government agencies, the military, businesses, organizations, or other relevant members of the public to provide information to the committees. If the entities refuse, delay, or hide documents, information, or files from the Yuan, they will receive a fine ranging from no less than $309 USD (NT$10,000) to no more than $6,200 USD (NT$100,000).

The Yuan will hold public hearings with officials or entities they summon and will hold secret hearings if topics or nominees involve foreign affairs, national defense, or other matters that need to be kept secret per law. If an individual is absent without a valid reason, refuses to express their opinion, refuses to testify, or refuses to provide information, they can be subject to a fine ranging from no less than $309 USD (NT$10,000) to no more than $6,200 USD (NT$100,000). However, individuals who make false statements during the hearings will be found “contempt of the legislature” receive a fine ranging from approximately $600 USD (NT$20,000) to no more than $6,200 USD (NT$200,000). Civil servants who make false statements on important topics that are known to the individual during the hearings or questionings will receive a prison sentence of no more than one year and be fined no more than $6,200 USD (NT$200,000).

Analysis

The new amendments could potentially allow the KMT and TPP to use hearings and summonses to gather information, cause political turmoil, and pass laws that would benefit China. However, the DPP still has some recourse regarding modifying or repealing the laws through various means. Several opponents of the new law point to the potential for KMT politicians to use the laws to gather information and pass it along to China. For example, KMT politicians routinely travel to China to meet with various Chinese government and Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials. The meetings are depicted as engagements between the two parties to maintain communications, decrease tensions, but also allow the KMT to exchange information with Chinese officials. For example, several senior KMT politicians, such as Vice Chairman Andrew Hsia and legislative caucus whip Fu Kun-chi, visited China three times in the months before the bill was tabled.

While the visits were to meet with Taiwanese businessmen, observe cultural activities, and discuss the resumption of tourist routes, they could also be used to meet secretly or openly with Chinese officials. Several KMT politicians faced accusations that they passed classified information to Chinese officials regarding weapons systems or foreign policy. The most recent example occurred in September 2023, when KMT Legislator Ma Wen-chun was accused of leaking information about Taiwan’s Hai Kun submarine to China. Ma allegedly made “handwritten copies” of classified contracts for the submarine’s components and took them out of the classified area. The Taiwanese authorities launched an investigation to determine the veracity of the allegations against Ma.

The potential for the KMT to use its control over the Legislative Yuan to cause turmoil and pass laws that would benefit China was highlighted by Taiwan’s National Security Bureau (NSB) Director, Tsai Ming-yan, on May 29th. DPP legislator Luo Meiling asked Tsai if the bureau ascertained the authenticity of Chinese exiled writer Yuan Hongbing’s comments about the potential for China to use the KMT and TPP-controlled legislature to cause political turmoil. Tsai responded to the lawmaker’s question, saying that China will “make every effort to communicate with legislators, local public opinion representatives, and various groups.”

Furthermore, sowing turmoil in a country’s domestic political scene is the CCP’s preferred method of increasing influence and furthering its political objectives. China could utilize its connections with KMT politicians to impede Taiwanese President William Lai’s and the DPP’s ability to pass laws that would fix various domestic issues, such as high rent prices and high unemployment rates. This obstacle would force the DPP to negotiate with the KMT and TPP on compromises to pass certain laws. The compromises would likely consist of the DPP making concessions regarding its ability to meet with various foreign government officials and continue its efforts to gain more global recognition.

There is a possibility that the new amendments would be modified or reversed by the Executive Yuan. The DPP requested that the Executive Yuan interpret the new amendments before they passed the third reading on May 28th. The Yuan’s President, Zhuo Rong-tai, acknowledged the laws’ issues and said the organization would refer the laws back to the Legislative Yuan for further review in accordance with constitutional procedures. He also outlined the Executive Yuan’s reasons that the amendments would be difficult to implement. Firstly, Zhuo pointed out that the laws do not clearly define the term “contempt of the legislature,” which would lead to several issues related to explaining or providing clear information during testimonies.

He then highlighted the potential difficulties the laws would have in allowing for the exercise of constitutional and other statutory authorities’ functions and powers due to their potential to infringe on people’s rights. Zhuo pointed out the constitutional issues regarding the requirement for the president to deliver an annual State of the Union report. He also highlighted the same issues regarding the new powers that the legislature has. Furthermore, he said there are concerns that the laws will cause excessive interference with executive power and infringe on people’s rights.

Zhuo testified in front of the Legislative Yuan on May 31st to discuss the laws and answer lawmakers’ questions. He repeated the comments made in the Executive Yuan statement. He also urged Taiwanese legal experts to review the newly amended law and provide their opinions regarding its constitutionality. During the third reading of the bill, several legal experts issued or signed statements about the unconstitutionality of the new amendments. Specifically, they also highlighted some of the issues that the Executive Yuan stated, such as its constitutionality and potential to negatively impact people’s rights. The Cabinet’s Preimer,

The DPP could bring a case against the laws in the Judicial Yuan, which would likely consist of it being heard in the country’s High Court. The court would strike down the laws because of constitutional issues surrounding the amendments. However, the KMT and the TPP would appeal the court’s ruling since they view the laws as necessary to check the DPP’s power and modernize the Legislative Yuan’s procedures. The case would ultimately be heard by the Supreme Court, where the final decision would be made regarding the laws’ constitutionality.

 

Joaquin Camarena
Joaquin Camarena
Joaquin the panda began Sino Talk in 2022 primarily to give an objective, unbiased view on China related topics as well as other issues related to the Indo-Pacific region. He spent several years studying and traveling throughout China and many countries in the Indo-Pacific region. In another life, the panda was also a U.S. Marine intelligence analyst who enjoyed bamboo MREs and drinking bourbon and soju. Indo-Pacific Division Desk Chief for Atlas News.

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