Protests erupt over opposition bill to rein in executive as new Taiwan leader starts work

Taiwan’s new president Lai Ching-te marked his first day at work watching thousands of people surround the island’s parliament to protest a legislative attempt by opposition parties to subject the new administration to tighter scrutiny.

A reform bill brought by the Kuomintang and Taiwan People’s Party aims to punish government functionaries for a vaguely described offence of “contempt of parliament” if they make false statements to the legislature or refuse to answer questions or provide documents or withhold information.

The proposed legislation also requires the president to make an annual address to the parliament on key policy matters.

Mr Lai’s party and its supporters claim that the legislation could undermine Taiwan’s security by compelling disclosure of sensitive diplomatic or strategic information to lawmakers.

The Kuomintang and the Taiwan People’s Party, which are expected to make a final push to pass their bill on Friday, argue that new laws are needed to improve government accountability and combat corruption, CNN reported.

The opposition parties are considered to be more favourable towards Beijing. Mr Lai, his party and their supporters are viewed as “separatist”.

In his first speech after being sworn in on Monday, Mr Lai pointedly stressed Taiwan’s sovereignty, angering Beijing which has a longstanding policy of reunifying the island with the Chinese mainland.

The new leader said he hoped “China will face the reality” of Taiwan’s existence, “respect the choices” of its people “and in good faith choose dialogue over confrontation”. He added that the island was determined to defend itself “in the face of the many threats and attempts at infiltration from China”.

Protesters gather outside Taiwan’s parliament in Taipei (Getty)
Protesters gather outside Taiwan’s parliament in Taipei (Getty)

On Tuesday, as lawmakers debated the reform bill late in the evening, the protesters outside accused opposition parties of trying to force the reforms through and of working in concert with China to “kill democracy”.

“I think with so many people coming out today it is a warning to lawmakers that they need to be aware their power is bestowed by the people,” said Lee Li, 24, a university student.

A protester holds a placard outside the Legislative Yuan in Taipei (AFP via Getty)
A protester holds a placard outside the Legislative Yuan in Taipei (AFP via Getty)

Inside the parliament, known as Legislative Yuan, chaos reigned as lawmakers unfurled banners and shouted at each other. But there was no physical altercation like on Friday.

While ruling party’s lawmakers wore headbands reading “Democracy has died”, opposition members displayed reading “Reforming parliament, let sunshine in”.

The ruling party’s whip, Ker Chien-ming, taunted the opposition lawmakers saying: “On the speaker’s platform today is not the KMT or the TPP. It’s Xi Jinping.”

He was met with shouts of “Shut up!”