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International Scholars Sound the Alarm Over Legislative Reforms Proposed in Taiwan

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International Scholars Sound the Alarm Over Legislative Reforms Proposed in Taiwan

An open letter from 30 scholars expresses “strong concern and disappointment about the set of parliamentary reforms.”

International Scholars Sound the Alarm Over Legislative Reforms Proposed in Taiwan

Taiwan flags fly near the Presidential Office building on October 10, 2018.

Credit: Office of the President, ROC (Taiwan)

Taiwan’s January 2024 elections resulted in divided government: Lai Ching-te of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) won the presidency but the legislature is controlled by an alliance between the Kuomintang (KMT), Taiwan’s main opposition party, and the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP).

This week, mass protests were organized in response to a KMT-TPP effort to rush through a bill that would expand legislative powers over the executive branch. Critics of the bill include a group of 30 international experts, who have written an open letter explaining their opposition. The full text of the letter is below, along with the list of signatories.

As longtime supporters, advocates, and friends of Taiwan, we the undersigned express our strong concern and disappointment about the set of parliamentary reforms proposed by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and Taiwan Peoples’ Party (TPP).

Whilst reforms are a natural process arising from the parliamentary process, including in Taiwan, the set proposed by the two parties exceed the bounds of those found in constitutional democracies around the world, subvert the rule of law and parliamentary procedures, and should be taken in the context of the KMT’s stated objective of undermining good governance.

Following Taiwan’s democratic elections in January 2024, the DPP received a historic third term in office, with victory by then Vice President Lai Ching-te. However, parliament became deeply divided, with none of the three major parties receiving a majority, leading the KMT and TPP to form a tactical alliance with joint support for a series of parliamentary reforms.

Major controversies encompassed within the reforms include the introduction of contempt of parliament charges, requiring the head of state to report to and take questions from legislators, and broadening the legislature’s investigatory powers.

While on the surface these reforms may appear salient, they fail to take into account Taiwan’s unique constitutional framework and legislative practices. They further surpass the scope and power of parliamentary authority found in most other constitutional democracies, including allowing for government officials to be jailed simply for asking questions during hearings.

Under the proposals, which have not been publicized for any review, during parliamentary hearings, government officials may be jailed for up to a year for remarks deemed by legislators to be concealed or untrue, making the latter arbitrators of truth in a divided political environment. If officials were to reply with questions of their own, a jail term of up to six months may apply.

We note that in most constitutional democracies, while contempt of parliament or congress charges exist, they have generally applied to the defiance of lawfully ordered subpoenas or lying in the course of judicial investigations. No democracy has applied contempt charges to officials discharging duties during the course of regular hearings or for merely “talking back.”

This proposal is particularly problematic given Taiwan’s political climate. The KMT caucus whip, Fu Kun-chi, said that the objective of the reform was for the DPP to “not be able to find any cabinet officials.” Another KMT legislator, Weng Hsiao-ling, recently said that during hearings the legislative and executive branches were a “top to bottom relationship,” in contravention of constitutional principles.

Furthermore, a KMT legislator, Hsu Chiao-hsin, is engaged in a bitter dispute with the Foreign Ministry after having been sued for leaking classified documents; KMT legislator Ma Wen-chun is also under investigation for potentially sending classified information to South Korean authorities about Taiwan’s top secret submarine program.

All of this suggests that the goal of the reform is not to support good governance, but to broaden the authority of the legislative branch in a way that usurps and penalizes the executive. This clearly violates the separation of powers inherent in the Constitution of the Republic of China, as Taiwan is formally known.

Other unconstitutional proposals can be found within the reform package, including a demand that Taiwan’s president participate in a legislative question and answer session. The ROC Constitution only allows for the president to engage in a “State of the Nation” address, which is why former KMT President Ma Ying-jeou, a legal jurist, had once said such a proposal would “confound” the president’s role.

Furthermore, in terms of broadening parliament’s investigative powers, this is a role that is currently attributed to the Control Yuan, another coequal branch of Taiwan’s government. While there have been discussions about potentially shuttering the institution, this has not yet taken place. As a result, serious questions would arise about a potential overreach of legislative authority.

All of this is to say that the reform proposals that have been put forward are potentially unconstitutional and a usurpation of political power held by other coequal branches of government. They tarnish Taiwan’s image for good governance and further create political rifts at a time it can ill afford to do so, given growing challenges and complexities from Beijing.

But more problematically, these reforms are being proposed in an environment of repressed political debate. The text of the KMT-TPP reforms has not been published for public review, in contravention of longstanding legislative practice. For the first time in 35 years, KMT speaker Han Kuo-yu has asked that legislators pass this using a show of hands instead of a recorded vote.

Furthermore, the KMT has disallowed DPP lawmakers to make amendments, debate, or even review individual articles within the reform package. This has curtailed informed debate. It has also rightfully spurred accusations that discussions are taking place behind closed doors, in an untransparent manner, all actions that the reform package was ostensibly supposed to prevent.

Legislative clashes took place on May 17 as DPP legislators attempted to prevent the reforms from being passed without public disclosure and substantive debate. Hundreds of protesters were also gathered outside the Legislature in opposition to the bills being considered. Thousands more may come together when the bill is taken up again on May 21.

Editor’s note: This letter was written on May 20. The protests against the bill on May 21 attracted an estimated 30,000 attendees, according to protest organizers.

We, the undersigned group of international academics, journalists, and politicians, are deeply concerned about the polarizing effects of these reforms on Taiwan’s society and negative implications for Taiwan’s global standing. 

With a new administration being sworn in on May 20 and hundreds of international dignitaries flying in for the occasion, they should be witness to Taiwan’s robust democracy, not the depth of its divisions. More importantly, the citizens of Taiwan deserve a government that is responsible, accountable, and transparent, all of which this reform bill undermines.


  1. Bob I. Yang, University of Missouri, Kansas City, United States
  2. Clive Ansley, Retired professor of Chinese History and Chinese Law, University of Windsor and University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC Canada
  3. Coen Blaauw, Executive Director (Ret.), Formosan Association for Public Relations, Washington DC, United States
  4. Michael Danielsen, Chairman, Taiwan Corner, Copenhagen, Denmark
  5. June Dreyer, University of Miami, FL, United States
  6. Michael Fahey, American lawyer, member of the California Bar Association
  7. Zsuzsa Ferenczy, National Dong Hwa University, Hualien, Taiwan and Vrije Universiteit Brussels, Belgium
  8. Christopher Hughes, London School of Economics (Emeritus), London, United Kingdom
  9. Thomas G. Hughes, Former chief of staff to Senator Claiborne Pell, Washington DC
  10. Sasa Istenic, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia
  11. Su-mei Kao, National President, Formosan Association for Public Affairs, USA
  12. Guermantes Lailari, National Chengchi University, Taipei, Taiwan
  13. André Laliberté, University of Ottawa, Ontario Canada
  14. Lutgard Lams, University of Leuven, Brussels, Belgium
  15. Benjamin Lewis, PLATracker, Washington DC
  16. John J. Tkacik, Institute of World Politics, Washington DC
  17. David Schak, Griffith University, Queensland, Australia
  18. William A. Stanton, National Chengchi University, Taipei, Taiwan
  19. Gerrit van der Wees, George Mason University, Fairfax, United States
  20. Stephen M. Young, Retired US Foreign Service Officer, Ambassador, Former Director AIT
  21. Bill Sharp, Center for Chinese Studies, University of Hawaii, Manoa
  22. Marcin Mateusz Jerzewski, European Values Center for Security Policy
  23. Michael Turton, Columnist, Taipei Times
  24. Sam Rainsy, Leader of the Cambodian Opposition
  25. Chung-Kai Sin, Former Legislative Council Member of Hong Kong
  26. Celito Arlegue, Executive Director, Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats
  27. Jeremiah Tomas, Youth Chairperson, Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats
  28. John Joseph Coronel, President, Center for Liberalism and Democracy
  29. Mu Sochua, Former Member of Parliament of Cambodia