Taiwan protesters gather as Opposition pushes contentious law

Demonstrators during a protest outside the Legislative Yuan in Taipei on May 24. - Bloomberg

TAIPEI: Protesters are gathering in Taipei as opposition lawmakers try to push through controversial legislation giving them greater investigative powers and effectively curbing the authority of President Lai Ching-te.

Anger at the measures has already sparked violent clashes inside the legislature and some of Taiwan’s largest protests since the 2014 Sunflower student movement, when protesters stormed and occupied the parliament, blocking the passage of an unpopular trade pact with China.

People are again assembling in the streets around parliament, amid concern the opposition Kuomintang and its Taiwan People’s Party allies will manage to pass the legislation on Tuesday (May 28).

The changes would expand lawmakers’ ability to summon the president, companies and even the general public for questioning. It would also give them access to confidential documents.

There are concerns those powers could let lawmakers derail President Lai’s agenda, lead to leaks of sensitive information, and punishments for those who refuse to answer questions. Taiwan already has the Control Yuan, a supervisory branch of government with the power to investigate and impeach officials.

Lai was sworn in as president on May 20, and the amendments could impair his ability to enact policies in the island that sits at the heart of China-US tensions.

The KMT, which advocates closer relations with China, has pushed back at suggestions the law is the result of outside influence. "It has nothing to do with anyone, anything beyond our air defense identification zone,” said Alexander Huang, an advisor to the party.

The KMT and TPP are pushing the reform in response to the majority of public opinion, KMT lawmaker Ko Chih-en said in a briefing.

But protesters are angry the two parties have cooperated to bring legislation directly to a floor vote, without the normal clause-by-clause deliberation in committee. A bill prepared by President Lai’s Democratic Progressive Party was, meanwhile, left in committee.

With the help of social media - especially Threads, which reportedly has nearly 2 million active users in Taiwan - protests for Tuesday were quickly arranged across at least 10 cities. Even Miaoli, a county which has a long history of supporting the Kuomintang, is set to see demonstrations.

"Citizens speak up rationally. Young people show their strength,” Lai said in a post on X on Saturday. "The legislative branch should heed these voices and resume normal operations as soon as possible.”

Protesters have dubbed their movement the "Blue Bird Action” - named after a road they occupied last week - so social media algorithms won’t tag posts as political and reduce their traffic.

As the opposition parties hold the majority of seats in the parliament, the passage of the legislation may be inevitable. If it goes through, Lai’s party will seek a constitutional review, Ker Chien-ming, the DPP’s legislative caucus leader, said at a briefing Monday.

"There will be two violations of the constitution,” he added, citing both a procedural and substantive violation. - Bloomberg

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