Taiwan parliament erupts in arguments at start of Lai's presidency

Just a day after his inauguration ceremony, politicians from both sides brandished protest signs and engaged in rowdy arguments.

21 May 2024 07:47pm
Main opposition Kuomintang (KMT) legislators raise their hands next to a placard showing Taiwan's President Lai Ching-te while voting for the parliament reform bill at the Parliament in Taipei on May 21, 2024. (Photo by AFP)
Main opposition Kuomintang (KMT) legislators raise their hands next to a placard showing Taiwan's President Lai Ching-te while voting for the parliament reform bill at the Parliament in Taipei on May 21, 2024. (Photo by AFP)
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TAIPEI - Taiwanese lawmakers shouted each other down Tuesday in a rambunctious parliamentary session, indicating the troubles ahead for newly appointed President Lai Ching-te.

Just a day after his inauguration ceremony, politicians from both sides brandished protest signs and engaged in rowdy arguments.

"Today is (President Lai's) second day in office. If there's another conflict in parliament how can we explain this?" asked the firebrand parliamentary speaker, Han Kuo-yu, of the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) party.

"Shut up!" yelled back lawmakers from Lai's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which failed to secure a parliamentary majority after winning January elections.

It is now facing a hostile coalition made up of the historic KMT -- regarded as friendlier to Beijing, which claims Taiwan as its territory -- and the upstart Taiwan People's Party (TPP).

The opposition alliance has tabled bills to expand the powers of the legislature, which the DPP argues they are forcing through without proper consultation.

After a brawl broke out in parliament on Friday between lawmakers over the matter, the session resumed Tuesday with DPP members unveiling a giant banner reading "No to power expansion".

"I feel like I am in China's National People's Congress... the measures proposed by the KMT are actually selling out the country," said DPP's Ker Chien-ming.

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Opposition lawmakers, meanwhile, waved "Parliament needs reform" placards.

Among the five bills proposed, the most controversial is a "contempt of parliament" offence, effectively criminalising officials unwilling to cooperate with legislative investigations -- which critics say could be motivated by subjective politics.

Outside parliament building known as Legislative Yuan, protesters gathered all day ballooned to the thousands by around 5 pm (0900 GMT), carrying signs that said "I despise the parliament".

"It took so many people's efforts to get the country out of 38 years of martial law and make it the best democratic country in Asia.

But now our parliament is taking a counter-march on democracy," said retiree Cheng Li-lin.

"The amendments could turn the parliament into a dictatorial entity."

"I hope the parliament can work in a respectable manner and show respect to procedures... Everyone should stand up (for this)," said Taiwanese drag queen Nymphia Wind -- famed for her win on hit reality show "RuPaul's Drag Race" -- who arrived in support for protesters in her signature yellow.

Student Lin Pei-ying, 19, said she supports parliamentary reform "but not in this manner".

On Friday, after the parliament fight, DPP supporters mobilised quickly outside the Legislative Yuan to protest the bills and the violence -- which local media said left lawmakers from DPP and KMT injured. - AFP

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