Saturday , July 13 2024

Taiwan braces for fresh protests over controversial law


TAIPEI: Tens of thousands of supporters of Taiwan’s ruling party are expected to gather outside parliament on Friday after it pushed ahead with a hugely controversial “contempt of parliament” bill.

The opposition Kuomintang party (KMT) says the new law is badly needed to redress the power imbalance between the legislature and Taiwan’s very powerful presidency but the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) says it’s an unconstitutional power grab, aimed at taking revenge on the DPP government led by President William Lai Ching-te.

The bill will give Taiwan’s parliament more power to interrogate and investigate the executive to subpoena government officials and private individuals, which could force them to hand over sensitive documents to lawmakers.

It also introduces a “contempt of legislature” clause which can impose fines and even a prison term of up to one year for officials who disrespect parliament. The last clause has been heavily criticized by legal scholars, who say it goes far beyond what is normal in other democratic countries.

When the bill was first introduced in May, huge protests sprang to life on the streets of Taipei as tens of thousands surrounded parliament for days but there was a lull when it went to Lai’s office for approval.

Lai returned the bill to parliament for review and it passed again, this time fairly quickly with the support of a fragile coalition of the KMT, the smaller Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) and independents.

But the DPP has been calling for its supports to turn up, even if it’s only a symbolic show of their opposition to the bill. The KMT staged a counter-protest on Friday, but the numbers in their hundreds were lower than those the DPP drew last month.

The protests, however, have come to reflect a deep political rift in Taiwan, between supporters of the DPP and the KMT.

For decades, KMT, the party of the Chinese nationalists, ruled Taiwan with an iron fist, brutally suppressing all calls for democracy or independence many of the older DPP leaders were jailed for being radicals. Now the two parties vie for power through the ballot box. But the old suspicions are now fueling gridlock in parliament.

It’s only one month since President Lai was inaugurated, but already the lack of a majority in a divided parliament means his prospects of getting anything substantial done during his first term are looking bleak.

On the streets outside the legislature there is genuine concern about what’s going on inside. The thousands of DPP supporters appear to believe the contempt of parliament bill is an attempted legislative coup d’etat.

“The process is very unjust and has skipped any substantial discussion”, says 33-year-old Powei Chang. “The bill itself is very dangerous and lacks clear definition. It is basically a way for legislators to expand their powers without the consent of the people.”

The fact that the legislators in question have a parliamentary majority is not good enough for Chang.

The people who have been surrounding parliament are from a cross-section of Taiwan society: young and old, students, professionals, blue-collar workers. They sit patiently on rows of plastic stools. On a make-shift stage, a steady procession of activists take the microphone to decry what is going on inside the chamber.

In May, when a huge afternoon thundershower washed over the city, organizers handed out plastic ponchos, and the better-prepared raised a forest of umbrellas. No-one left. (Int’l News Desk)

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