world politics

A Fight Broke Out Among Lawmakers in Taiwan’s Parliament. Again.

Such brawls are a fact of life in Taiwan. One time, a parliamentarian snatched a bill being considered and tried to eat it.
June 30, 2020, 1:40pm
scuffle-2018
A file photo from 2018 shows the same political parties, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the Kuomintang (KMT), during a scuffle at the Parliament in Taipei. Photo by SAM YEH/AFP via Getty Images.

A brawl broke out between Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and their main opposition, the Kuomintang (KMT), on Monday, June 29, inside the self-governing island’s legislature after the KMT erected barricades and occupied the chamber in a protest against government “tyranny.”

Nearly two dozen KMT lawmakers blocked entry to the chamber, known as the Legislative Yuan, accusing the government of trying to ram through legislation, and demanding the president drop the nomination of an ally to a high-level watchdog body called the Control Yuan.

DPP lawmakers, for their part, pulled down the barricades and barged into the area the KMT were occupying, prompting scuffles and shouting before a semblance of peace was ultimately restored.

But as extreme as such a conflict might appear to outsiders, fights inside Taiwan’s parliament aren’t a rare occurrence—in fact, they happen with some regularity.

According to a handy history of Taiwanese parliamentary brawls compiled by the BBC on the occasion of a particularly notable clash back in 2017, the Legislative Yuan saw substantial dust-ups on multiple occasions in 2004, during proceedings on transport links to the mainland in 2006, and in a session on the annual budget in 2007. In the last incident, at least one person was hospitalized.

One of the 2004 scuffles descended into a food fight, while the 2006 kerfuffle saw one parliamentarian snatch the bill in question and attempt to actually eat it, only for opposition members to try to force her to spit out the offending document by pulling her hair.

In 2017, meanwhile, the donnybrook escalated to the point that lawmakers were actually hurling chairs at each other and wrestling opponents to the ground in an effort to block an infrastructure spending bill. And in April 2018, another scuffle erupted over a draft bill to reform the military pension system.

Chen Fang-Yu, a PhD candidate at Michigan State University specializing in Asian comparative politics, further explained the reason of this week's fight to VICE News.

“If you look at the substantial context, most people are not very interested in the Control Yuan,” Chen said.

But, he added, “There is a new committee of human rights in the new Control Yuan. The committee will also investigate authoritarian legacies, just like the justice committee. KMT is not happy with it, and therefore they are opposing the nomination.”

Past fights, he noted, have proven to blow over quickly. In the case of the 2017 brawl, after the infrastructure bill was ultimately passed, the KMT’s opposition to it appeared to melt away, with many of the party’s local level officials applying for funds under the new law, Chen said.

As for Monday’s fight, Chen said that many people were more amused by it than anything.

“The KMT broke in, but people are making jokes, saying that you [KMT] are the legislators. So, they don’t necessarily have to break in, do they?” he said.

"There is also a photo on Facebook where the KMT lawmakers are eating together after the fight, which is quite funny,” Chen said.

Ultimately, he said that Taiwanese parliamentarians’ apparently quick tempers are a form of political theater.

“To be honest, I think the lawmakers pretend to fight. I think this is rather a political performance, and an appeal for both the DPP and KMT to show their voters and supporters that they are [making] a move within the legislature. Because if you look at the photos of the correspondents, they aren’t actually really fighting,” Chen said.

"This time, the KMT wants to oppose the Control Yuan nomination. They pretend to do it in an acting way. That is my explanation.”

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This article originally appeared on VICE US.