Thousands protest as Taiwan’s parliament passes contested reforms

Thousands protest as Taiwan’s parliament passes contested reforms

TAIPEI (Reuters): Thousands of people protested outside Taiwan’s parliament on Tuesday after it passed a reform package to increase oversight of the government pushed by the opposition but opposed by the ruling party, which did not have the numbers to block it.

The peaceful protests, and sometimes violent confrontations in parliament over the reforms, have been taking place against a backdrop of broader concern about efforts by China, which views Taiwan as its own territory, to influence the island’s politics.

The Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) Lai Ching-te won the presidency in January elections, but the party lost its majority in parliament. Taiwan’s main opposition party, the Kuomintang (KMT), along with the small Taiwan People’s Party, together have the most seats.

The parliament reforms give lawmakers the power to ask the military, private companies or individuals to disclose information deemed relevant by parliamentarians.

They also criminalize contempt of parliament by government officials, and require the president to give regular reports to parliament and answer lawmakers’ questions, which would be a first for Taiwan.

The DPP says the reforms were forced through without proper consultation and their content either vague or an over-reach of power, and on Tuesday its lawmakers threw garbage bags and paper planes at their opposition counterparts.

“You can seize parliament but you cannot seize public opinion,” DPP parliament leader Ker Chien-ming said in an address to the chamber, adding that Beijing had influenced Taiwanese politics.

Opposition lawmakers, holding sun-shaped balloons, shouted “let sunlight into parliament.” Both parties covered the chamber with banners.

The KMT has denounced the DPP for trying to “paint them red,” the color of China’s Communist Party, and says the DPP is trying to stymie efforts to investigate corruption cases and sow unfounded fears about the reforms.

Outside parliament, protesters showed their anger at the reforms being passed, and also shouted “refuse Chinese political interference,” among other slogans.

“This is the people’s voice,” said Zheng Hung-gun, 33, who works in the food industry. “Taiwanese are not afraid of enemies from outside but we are worried about our internal enemies.”

On Friday night, tens of thousands thronged the roads around parliament protesting the reforms.

Several senior KMT leaders have visited China this year, in what the party says is an effort to keep lines of communication open. It denies being pro-Beijing.

China refuses to speak to Lai or the DPP, saying they are “separatists.” Lai says only Taiwan’s people can decide their future and has repeatedly offered talks with China, but been rebuffed.