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Weak Rules, Little Punishment for Fighting in Taiwan's Parliament

Ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislator Chao Tien-lin, left, scuffles with opposition Kuomintang (KMT) legislators during budget meeting for the infrastructure development program, at the Legislative Yuan in Taipei, Taiwan, July 18, 2017.
Weak Rules, Little Punishment for Fighting in Taiwan's Parliament
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Taiwan's legislature received world attention this month.

It was not, however, the result of laws the parliament passed. Instead, the world watched lawmakers fighting.

Weak rules and unspoken agreements in Taiwan’s parliament prevent the violence from being stopped.

Over two years, aggressive actions such as pushing, throwing chairs and physically seizing others have not been reported to the parliament's Discipline Committee. Its executive secretary recently said that the committee has the power to suspend lawmakers who take part in such behavior.

Liu Yih-jiun is a public issues professor at Fo Guang University in Taiwan. He told VOA, "A dogfight between the members of the house in Taiwan is legal."

Liu said the committee never orders any physical or legal actions to try to control the behavior of lawmakers. He said this is true even when people are badly hurt.

Taiwan is known for its physical legislative fights. They often start with opposition party members blocking the path of majority party members as they try to reach a podium.

When the majority party pushes back, some lawmakers hit, grab, pull neckties and throw objects. Last December, three people were sent to the hospital after a parliamentary fight.

Experts say fighting continues in Taiwan partly because political parties are unwilling to share power or accept that they lack power.

Also, voters in Taiwan also expect their lawmakers to stand strong on sensitive issues such as Taiwan's relations with China. And, some lawmakers have said the fights are not always real. They say some are planned to get attention.

Ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislator Chen Ming-Wen reacts after fight with opposition Kuomintang (KMT) legislator Hsu Yu-Jen, not pictured.
Ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislator Chen Ming-Wen reacts after fight with opposition Kuomintang (KMT) legislator Hsu Yu-Jen, not pictured.

​Taiwan's legislature in central Taipei lacks a security official, called a sergeant at arms. This official supervises behavior at meetings and can remove people when necessary. In Britain, the parliament's sergeant at arms carries a sword.

Liu said the past two legislative leaders, called speakers, have been, in his words, "kind of weak" and lacking in "political wisdom" needed to settle disputes peacefully.

This month, opposition lawmakers pushed people and seized the podium to block the finance committee chairman from reaching it. The chairman called a recess.

The Discipline Committee official said that neither the speaker nor parliament has honored lawmaker requests to send cases of violence to the Discipline Committee.

Raymond Wu is a director of e-telligence, a research business based in Taiwan that advises companies. He said lawmakers hope to avoid dividing parliament further by punishing individual members.

Over five meetings that started on July 13, legislators threw chairs and water balloons, sometimes screaming as they fought. The opposition Nationalist Party had protested the budget for including the first part of a government plan for new infrastructure. The budget item received approval Wednesday.

Opposition legislator Lin Wei-chou spoke after the fight Monday.

"We will do our utmost to explain to people why we're so intensely blocking this meeting," he said.

I'm Caty Weaver.

Ralph Jennings reported this story for VOA News. Caty Weaver adapted it for Learning English. ­­­­­­­­­Mario Ritter was the editor.

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Words in This Story

discipline - n. control that is gained by requiring that rules or orders be obeyed and punishing bad behavior​

podium - n. a raised platform for a speaker, performer, or the leader of an orchestra​

grab - v. to quickly take and hold (someone or something) with your hand or arms​

necktie - n. a long piece of cloth that is worn by men around the neck and under a collar and that is tied in front with a knot at the top​

recess - n. a usually brief period of time during which regular activity in a court of law or in a government stops​

scream - v. to say (something) in a loud and high voice because you are angry, afraid, etc​

infrastructure - n. the basic equipment and structures (such as roads and bridges) that are needed for a country, region, or organization to function properly​

item - n. an individual thing: a separate part or thing​