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Taiwan prepares for new protests against controversial new law

Taiwan prepares for new protests against controversial new law
Taiwan prepares for new protests against controversial new law


Tens of thousands of supporters of Taiwan's ruling party are expected to rally outside Parliament on Friday after it pushed forward a highly controversial contempt of parliament bill.

The opposition Kuomintang (KMT) party says the new law is absolutely necessary to redress the imbalance of power between the legislature and Taiwan's powerful presidency.

But the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) says it is 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 question and investigate the executive branch to subpoena government officials and individuals, which could force them to hand over sensitive documents to lawmakers.

It also introduces a contempt of law clause that can impose fines, or even a prison sentence of up to a year, on civil servants who disrespect Parliament. This last clause has been strongly criticized by lawyers, who believe that it goes well beyond what is normal in other democratic countries.

When the bill was first introduced in May, huge protests broke out on the streets of Taipei as tens of thousands of people surrounded Parliament for days. But there was a lull when it was submitted to Mr. Lais's office for approval.

Mr. Lai sent the bill back to Parliament for review and it was passed again, this time relatively quickly with the support of a fragile coalition consisting of the KMT, the smaller Taiwan People's Party (TPP) and the independent.

But the DPP has called for support, even if it is only a symbolic demonstration of its opposition to the bill. The KMT staged a counter-protest on Friday, but the number of demonstrators in the hundreds was lower than those organized by the DPP last month.

The protests, however, became a reflection of a deep political divide in Taiwan, between supporters of the DPP and the KMT.

For decades, the KMT, the party of Chinese nationalists, ruled Taiwan with an iron fist, brutally suppressing any calls for democracy or independence. Many older PDP leaders were imprisoned for being radicals. Now the two parties are competing for power through the ballot box. But old suspicions are now fueling the impasse in Parliament.

It's only been a month since President Lai was sworn in, but already the lack of a majority in a divided parliament means his chances of achieving substantial results in his first term look bleak.

In the streets outside Parliament there is genuine concern about what is happening inside. The thousands of DPP supporters appear to believe that the contempt of parliament bill is an attempted legislative coup.

The process is very unfair and has avoided any substantive discussion, says Powei Chang, 33. The bill itself is very dangerous and lacks clear definition. It is essentially a way for lawmakers to expand their powers without the consent of the people.

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

The people surrounding the Parliament come from all segments of Taiwanese society: young and old, students, professionals, blue-collar workers. They sit patiently on rows of plastic stools. On a makeshift stage, a regular procession of activists takes the microphone to denounce what is happening inside the chamber.

In May, when a huge afternoon storm hit the city, organizers handed out plastic ponchos and the best prepared held up a forest of umbrellas. More people.

They are unified by two things: a strong sense of Taiwanese identity and a deep distrust of the motivations of the KMT opposition.

I think what's happening in Taiwan today is something that people need to speak out against, says a young woman named Eden Hsu. We cannot let those who are trying to sell Taiwan believe that they can do whatever they want without opposition.

Sell ​​Taiwan to whom? In China.

Many provisions of the bill appear influenced by the Chinese Communist Party, she said. The Chinese Communist Party plans to infiltrate Taiwan using both internal and external support.

It’s a feeling you’re told time and time again, in the streets and from activists on stage. There is a widespread belief among those opposing the bill that the KMT leadership is now firmly in Beijing's pocket.

Asked for evidence, protesters and activists point to frequent visits by senior KMT politicians to China. The first of these is the aging former Taiwanese KMT chairman Ma Ying-jeou. In the past six months, he has made two trips to China. In April, he was warmly welcomed in Beijing by President Xi Jinping himself, who steadfastly refused any dialogue with Mr. Lai or his predecessor Tsai Ing-wen.

A well-known DPP politician describes ex-President Ma as Beijing's most important political asset in Taiwan.

Others considered very close to Beijing include KMT Chairman Han Kuo-yu, who DPP supporters often derisively describe as the Korean Fish, a homonym of his name in Chinese.

It's not really blue [the colour of the KMT party flag], said a DPP politician. It's red [(the colour of the communist party flag].

Another accused of being red is the man responsible for passing the contempt bill, KMT caucus leader Fu Kun-chi. Mr. Fu is a powerful power broker with a controversial past, including a stint in prison following a conviction for insider trading and for concocting a fraudulent divorce. He also frequently visits China.

All this gives useful grist to the mill of rumors and insinuations. But this does not constitute evidence of collusion between senior KMT leaders and Beijing. Indeed, the KMT leadership loudly protested its innocence and highlighted its long history of opposition to the Chinese Communist Party.

I have more reason than the DPP to hate Beijing, says Alexander Huang, head of the KMT's international department. The whole idea [of the bill] it’s about making the executive more accountable, that’s all.

But when the KMT controlled the presidency and legislature between 2008 and 2016, it resisted opposition demands to pass a very similar law, while the DPP, then on the other side of the aisle, did pressure for this law.

The KMT also suggested it could begin investigating DPP leaders once the bill is passed.

For eight years, the DPP had a supermajority. They could get what they wanted. The executive and legislature are forming a coalition to take advantage of Taiwan's resources, Huang said.




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