Taiwan's brawling in parliament is a political way of life

By Cindy Sui
BBC News, Taipei

Media caption,
After a huge brawl on Thursday last week, fighting has resumed in Taiwan's parliament

On the outside, the main building of Taiwan's Legislative Yuan - or parliament - is a picture of calm.

Two rows of neatly-trimmed shrubbery and trees line the courtyard leading to the stately-looking, white building with a Republic of China (Taiwan) flag on top.

But inside, the picture is very different.

In fact, while parliamentary brawls occur occasionally in other countries, Taiwan's Legislative Yuan is notorious for them.

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Scuffles are common in Taiwan's Legislative Yuan - but they are getting uglier

Rowdy and sometimes violent scuffles occur as often as several times a year and even every few days or weeks.

Punching, hair pulling, throwing plastic bottles and water balloons, as well as splashing cups of water on the faces of rival party legislators are common scenes. Air-horns and filibustering - more like shouting - are also used to drown out one's opponents.

Taiwan's notable brawls

23 March 2004: A scuffle erupted between the ruling and opposition party members over vote recounts from the presidential election.

7 May 2004: Legislator Zhu Xingyu grabbed legislator William Lai and tried to wrestle him onto a desk and headbutt him, and jabbed him in the stomach, due to disagreements over legislative procedures.

26 October 2004: A food fight took place between the opposition and ruling party during a debate on a military hardware purchase ordinance.

30 May 2006: Then opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislator Wang Shu-hui snatched a written proposal and shoved it into her mouth to prevent voting on allowing direct transportation links with Mainland China. Ruling party members tried to force her to cough it up by pulling her hair. She later spat it out but tore it up.

8 May 2007: Several members of the ruling DPP and opposition Kuomintang (KMT) party fought over control of the Speaker's podium, with some throwing punches and spraying water over an alleged delay of the annual budget. At least one person was admitted to hospital.

However this month's fights have become even uglier. Last Thursday, legislators lifted up and threw chairs at each other when they brawled over the ruling DPP's massive $29bn (£22bn) infrastructure spending bill, which the opposition (headed by the KMT) claims benefits cities and counties loyal to the DPP and is aimed at helping the party win forthcoming elections.

The fighting continued on Tuesday in a legislative committee meeting. The opposition KMT legislators wrestled DPP members to the floor and unplugged the cables of loud speakers to prevent the DPP from putting the bill through a committee review to move it towards passage into law.

Opposition parties, a minority in the 113-seat parliament, see physical fights as the only way to stop legislation they oppose, by blocking them from being voted on.

The standoffs can last for hours, even into the middle of the night. Legislators take turns eating or delay meals.

Many staff from local governments, ministries or government agencies have to be there, to see if legislation that affects them might pass, or to be on hand to answer questions in case there is actual discussion and debating, not just brawling.

These people find ways to put up with the chaotic scenes. Some cover their ears, others focus on their smartphones, and a few smart ones find the most comfortable couches in the back and manage to sleep through it all.

It's become a normal part of Taiwan's democracy - one of the most vibrant in the world.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Parties see parliamentary fights as an effective way to prevent the passing of legislation

But the fights shouldn't be taken too seriously, says a local journalist who covers parliament on a daily basis. He wished to be identified only by his first name.

"The legislators are partly acting - trying to show their constituents they're working hard to fight for their cause," said Danny.

However, he and other Taiwanese people say the brawls - with some broadcasted worldwide - are humiliating and do not advance democracy.

"The fights only allow the people to see the surface, not real issues. People often don't even understand the bills," said Danny.

He admitted that many journalists don't either. This current infrastructure bill is 10,000 pages long; it's impossible for them to read through all of it.

"If the legislators actually debate the contents of the bill instead of fight, the public might understand it better," said Danny. "I majored in politics in college. This is not what I had expected."

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