Protests Erupt as Taiwan Parliament Debates Contentious Reforms

TAIPEI – Lawmakers in Taiwan clashed on May 21 as the opposition pushed for reforms to increase parliamentary oversight, sparking protests and accusations from the ruling party of a lack of consultation.

The confrontation occurred just one day after Lai Ching-te assumed office as Taiwan’s new president. His presidency begins amid tensions with China, which views him as a “separatist,” and a divided Parliament following the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)’s loss of its majority.

Hundreds of protesters gathered outside Parliament, accusing the opposition of collaborating with China and undermining democracy. Inside, lawmakers jostled, unfurled banners, and shouted at each other. The main opposition parties, the Kuomintang (KMT) and Taiwan People’s Party (TPP), have enough seats to form a majority and are pushing for reforms to enhance parliamentary scrutiny over the government.

One controversial proposal seeks to punish officials who make false statements to Parliament, which has drawn significant criticism from the DPP. DPP lawmakers, wearing headbands that read “Democracy has died,” demanded more discussion on the proposals. They expressed their anger at the KMT, with DPP caucus whip Ker Chien-ming declaring, “On the speaker’s platform today is not the KMT or the TPP. It’s Xi Jinping,” referring to China’s president. This remark led to shouts of “Shut up!” from the opposition, some of whom held signs reading, “Reforming Parliament, let sunshine in.”

The KMT responded by accusing the DPP of spreading rumors and trying to stifle reforms by associating them with China’s ruling Communist Party. “The DPP is stirring up populism, and their anti-reform actions don’t have a leg to stand on,” said KMT spokesperson Yang Chih-yu.

Citizen Congress Watch, a non-governmental organization advocating for citizen supervision of Parliament, expressed concerns about the current reform proposals. Chang Hung-lin, head of the group, stated that the reforms overly expand the power of lawmakers, allowing them to demand testimony from parties such as defense officials and private companies without proper checks and balances. “This is harmful to our administrative power and the judiciary,” he added.

Despite the tensions, some reform proposals passed a second reading on Tuesday. The debates and protests highlight the challenges President Lai faces as he navigates a fractured Parliament and external pressures from China.