Taiwan lawmakers brawl again over Bill

DPP legislators brandishing chairs as opposition MPs called for a boycott of the controversial infrastructure Bill yesterday.
DPP legislators brandishing chairs as opposition MPs called for a boycott of the controversial infrastructure Bill yesterday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Chaos in Parliament as opposition tries to delay budget review for second straight day

Some hoisted chairs over their heads, others threw water balloons.

Such was the chaos yesterday in Taiwan's Legislative Yuan, or Parliament, as opposition lawmakers tried to delay a review of the budget for an ambitious infrastructure plan, for the second day running.

The brawl over the NT$420 billion (S$19 billion) infrastructure Bill follows Thursday's fracas, when rival legislators grabbed one another's throats in scuffles during a budget review for the project.

The Forward-looking Infrastructure Bill represents a signature project under President Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), and includes construction of light rail infrastructure, flood control measures and green energy facilities.

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The Bill was passed by the DPP-controlled Legislative Yuan last week after lawmakers agreed to cut spending from NT$882.49 billion over eight years to NT$420 billion over four years.

The government had expected to get the first phase of funding approved by this week, but the impasse has delayed implementation of several infrastructure projects. Now, the earliest the budget can be voted on will be next month during a special parliamentary sitting.

URGENT NEED FOR CONSENSUS

People have this impression that there is a misallocation of funds to benefit the DPP. So even if they have the parliamentary majority to get the budget approved, they need to reach some sort of consensus or compromise. Otherwise, things will be very difficult when the local elections come next year.

PROFESSOR WANG JIANN-CHYUAN, vice-president of Chung-hua Institution for Economic Research

The clashes in the past two days prevented Premier Lin Chuan from taking the podium to present a report on the budget plan for the first phase of the project.

The opposition Kuomintang (KMT) party said the project represents pork barrel politics, as it favours cities and counties that support Ms Tsai's ruling DPP.

The project involves, among other measures, the building of light rail lines and a mass rapid transit system in DPP-held cities such as Kaohsiung and Taoyuan, but critics say such facilities will be under-utilised.

Accusing the government of "illegal budgeting", critics argue that many of the plans are not financially viable or cost-effective.

KMT lawmaker Johnny Chiang said that the legislature is "not a rubber stamp", and accused the DPP of making a mess of taxpayers' money.

Speaking at a separate press briefing yesterday, Mr Lin said the government has always been aboveboard, and hopes the legislature will continue to communicate with the Cabinet to pass the budget for the infrastructure Bill.

Yesterday, the Presidential Office spokesman criticised the violent boycotts, saying Taiwanese want the budget review to be a "rational discussion, seeking common ground to improve people's quality of life".

But Taiwanese seem to be none the wiser. A recent poll by Hsing Wu University found that more than 60 per cent of the public do not understand what the infrastructure Bill is about, and half of them say the legislation will not improve the economy.

Ms Tsai's approval ratings have plunged below 40 per cent, down from nearly 70 per cent when she took office in May last year, as her government takes on divisive issues ranging from gay marriage to pension reforms.

Violent protests erupted outside Parliament in April when opponents of pension reforms attacked politicians and clashed with police, prompting Ms Tsai to call for calm.

There was chaos in the Legislative Yuan late last year when opposition lawmakers got into scuffles, after labour activists set off smoke bombs outside the building to protest proposed cuts to public holidays.

Professor Wang Jiann-Chyuan, who is vice-president of Chung-hua Institution for Economic Research, said: "People have this impression that there is a misallocation of funds to benefit the DPP. So even if they have the parliamentary majority to get the budget approved, they need to reach some sort of consensus or compromise. Otherwise, things will be very difficult when the local elections come next year."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 15, 2017, with the headline 'Taiwan lawmakers brawl again over Bill'. Print Edition | Subscribe