Taiwan lawmakers brawl over military pension cuts

A lawmaker of the Kuomintang displays a portrait of Tuan Yi-kang, a legislator from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, during a protest at the Parliament in Taipei on April 20, 2018.
A lawmaker of the Kuomintang displays a portrait of Tuan Yi-kang, a legislator from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, during a protest at the Parliament in Taipei on April 20, 2018.PHOTOS: AFP

TAIPEI (AFP) - Taiwan legislators brawled in parliament on Friday (April 20) over proposed reductions to military veterans' pensions, part of wider cutbacks that have triggered mass protests.

The clashes came as a draft bill proposed by the cabinet earlier this month was deliberated in parliament for the first time, following a protest by military retirees in February.

That demonstration ended in tragedy as a former colonel fell while climbing up a wall, and later died in hospital.

Legislators shouted, pushed and shoved in the chamber Friday, with lawmakers from the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) waving placards demanding President Tsai Ing-wen apologise to the veterans.

They threw signs emblazoned with the words "bully government", jumping on tables and tussling with legislators from Tsai's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

KMT lawmakers also called for DPP legislator Tuan Yi-kang to apologise for calling high-ranking veterans protesting the reforms as "insatiably greedy."

The backlash over the cuts is a major challenge for president Tsai, who has seen her popularity rating fall since her election two years ago.

Legislators passed a separate pension reform bill last June that targeted civil servants, as the government warned it could no longer pay out on the high-interest deals.

Tsai admitted in a television interview earlier this month that the reforms have "offended many people" but stood by the plan to make the pension system more sustainable.

Taiwan's pension schemes vary for different occupations and public sector retirees typically receive more generous packages than workers from other sectors, which fall under a different labour pension system.

The government has warned that various pension funds could go bankrupt as early as 2020 if the system is not overhauled.

Among the reforms is the phasing out of a preferential 18 per cent interest on savings for civil servants and military personnel.

Tsai has pushed many controversial reforms - including gay marriage and labour issues - since her election in 2016, when the DPP also gained control of parliament for the first time.

Brawls during parliamentary sessions are common in Taiwan, but are often a show put on by legislators and serious injuries are rare.