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Highlights of disputed 'parliamentary reform bills'

05/17/2024 11:34 PM
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CNA photo May 17, 2024
CNA photo May 17, 2024

Taipei, May 17 (CNA) Intense clashes erupted among ruling and opposition party lawmakers at the Legislative Yuan on Friday over proposed amendments hailed as "reform bills" aimed at boosting the Legislature's power.

Throughout the day, the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) and Taiwan's People Party (TPP) tried to push through the bills, and no consensus was reached in cross-caucus negotiations held to resolve disputes on the bills they proposed.

As of 11:30 p.m., the Legislature was still in session to vote on the controversial bills, with the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) doing everything possible to drag out the process.

Legislative Speaker Han Kuo-yu (center, in suit) struggles to enter the legislative floor on Friday. CNA photo May 17, 2024
Legislative Speaker Han Kuo-yu (center, in suit) struggles to enter the legislative floor on Friday. CNA photo May 17, 2024

The following are highlights of the controversial bills proposed by the KMT and TPP -- before Friday's legislative meeting -- that caused the fierce scuffles among ruling and opposition lawmakers days before a new president is inaugurated on May 20.

The DPP has been at loggerheads with the KMT and the TPP for several weeks over the bills, including one that requires the president to make an annual state of the nation address and answer questions from lawmakers.

Having garnered only 51 seats in January's legislative elections, the DPP did not retain its absolute majority in the 113-seat Legislature, while the KMT won 52 seats and the TPP eight.

The KMT and two independents ideologically aligned with it have been teaming up with the TPP to outvote the ruling party in the Legislative Yuan on several motions since the new Legislature was seated in February.

That includes forcing the so-called parliamentary reform bills through the Judicial and Organic Laws and Statues Committee and bringing them to the legislative floor -- a move the DPP caucus protested because of a lack of line-by-line deliberation.

The reform bills that were scheduled to be voted on Friday included those on how the president's state of the nation address should be presented, strengthening the Legislature's investigative rights, and how "contempt of the Legislature" is defined and penalized.

Regarding the president's address, the KMT and the TPP would require that the president make an annual state of the nation address in the Legislative Yuan, changing the current wording which makes the address optional.

The opposition parties also want the president to be questioned by lawmakers on the spot, like other Cabinet officials, rather than raising questions that the president can respond to at a later date if he or she consents to doing, as the law currently stipulates.

DPP caucus whip Ker Chien-ming (柯建銘) said on May 10 that there was no problem with the president making the address, but he argued that "a question-and-answer session with the president," whether held collectively by lawmakers or individually, "would be unconstitutional."

May 10: Legislature agrees on proposal for Lai's state of the nation address

Other bills that have stoked controversies are the proposal to give lawmakers enhanced investigative rights and punish those who violate that right for "contempt of the Legislature."

DPP caucus whip Ker Chien-ming (left) and KMT caucus whip Fu Kun-chi. CNA photo May 17, 2024
DPP caucus whip Ker Chien-ming (left) and KMT caucus whip Fu Kun-chi. CNA photo May 17, 2024

The current law stipulates that lawmakers have "the right to access to official documents," while the KMT has proposed this right be given teeth with "investigative rights" to convene investigatory committees and hearings that can summon those involved in various matters to provide testimony and materials.

In addition, the scope of those subject to such a summons would also be expanded to include private entities.

Those who refuse, procrastinate, conceal, or provide false statements to the Legislature's demand for an investigation, questioning, and access to documents would be fined or dealt with by prosecutors, according to the KMT lawmakers' bill.

To support the right of the Legislature to launch investigations, amendments have been proposed to the Criminal Code to add a new chapter titled "contempt of the legislature" to criminalize said offenses committed during an investigation.

Several lawyers voiced concerns during public hearings held in April over the proposed criminalization and who would define contempt, citing possible violations to basic rights and freedom.

Crowds gather outside the Legislative Yuan in Taipei Friday night. CNA photo May 17, 2024
Crowds gather outside the Legislative Yuan in Taipei Friday night. CNA photo May 17, 2024

Lin Chih-chieh (林志潔), a legal professor and a DPP legislative candidate in the January election, warned at a public hearing that if the bills passed, the Legislative Yuan would be able to demand the presence of, for example, TSMC founder Morris Chang (張忠謀) and accuse him of contempt of the Legislature if he refused to attend.

The Legislature could also ask TSMC or other enterprises to provide sensitive information related to their commercial secrets, Lin argued.

DPP Legislator Puma Shen (沈伯洋) said in April that before expanding the power of lawmakers, regulations defining limits should be established to avoid having the Legislature become a place for "self-serving retribution" that bypasses legal institutions.

The DPP caucus proposed in its related bills that the investigatory committee should only be convened if the matter in question is related to the rights conferred by the Constitution to the Legislative Yuan and should not violate the authority of other independent agencies.

Rather than "contempt of the Legislature," it called for amendments to the Legislator Behavior Act to legally denounce and prohibit sexual harassment or gender-discriminatory language by lawmakers.

Those proposals, however, did not make it out of committee.

(By Alison Hsiao)


> Chinese Version


● Article by article review of reform bills halted until May 21

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