The Debate

Taiwan’s Protesters Are Against ‘Check-but-Imbalance’ and Legislative Overreach

Recent Features

The Debate | Opinion | East Asia

Taiwan’s Protesters Are Against ‘Check-but-Imbalance’ and Legislative Overreach

The Bluebird Movement can’t be dismissed as mere partisan mobilization.

Taiwan’s Protesters Are Against ‘Check-but-Imbalance’ and Legislative Overreach

An estimated 100,000 people fill the streets during a protest against the legislative reform bill on May 24, 2024.

Credit: Taiwan Economic Democracy Union

Over the past two weeks, Taiwan has seen repeated large-scale protests to express opposition to a set of bills to reform legislative power – and to the dismaying speed with which these changes were raced through the Legislative Yuan. The Kuomintang (KMT), the main opposition party in Taiwan, dismissed the protests in a recent op-ed, and openly criticized international observers covering these events for not understanding Taiwanese politics, attributing it to their lack of understanding of Mandarin Chinese.

We are indeed witnessing a considerable level of information asymmetry being manipulated by the use of Mandarin Chinese sources in English-based platforms. Ironically, the recent submission to The Diplomat by KMT legislator Wu Tsung-hsien, who is the chair of the Judiciary Committee that conducted the controversial review process of the acts, is a clear example. 

First, Wu cited a public opinion poll that indicated 57 percent of the public supported legislative reform. However, what Wu did not mention that the poll only asked whether people support “punishing officials for making false statements.” In other words, the poll provides incomplete information on the pulse of the public, as it did not ask citizens about other aspects that might concern them, including the process of passing the bills. Without specifying the wording of the original question in the poll, it would be erroneous to conclude that the public supports the new legislation’s provisions “related to the contempt of the Legislative Yuan.” As specialists in political science and behavior, we suggest that the interpretation of the poll should be much narrower than Wu suggested.

Similarly, Wu mentioned that Chiu Yi-ying, a Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislator who previously chaired a joint session, forcibly pushed through a bill for infrastructure construction (the Forward-Looking Infrastructure Plan) without any discussion under the previous administration. This incident indeed occurred on April 27, 2017. However, Wu failed to mention that Chiu apologized for quickly going through the process the next day and advocated for the entire meeting to be redone, holding several additional meetings, and ultimately passing the package about three months later. 

Even if some laws have been passed in haste in the past, this does not justify passing additional legislation without review, like the KMT did this time. As the saying goes, “two wrongs don’t make a right.”

Wu argued that the legislative process was transparent since there were “two committee meetings and three public hearings before inter-party consultation.” However, he did not mention that all the controversial articles were put up for a vote in those sessions without discussion. Wu, as committee chair, even blocked DPP legislators from speaking several times in these sessions. The day before the second reading, the KMT-Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) alliance released a new version of the act without any prior reviews. Some legislators could not access the latest version until the last moment before the vote. 

Unfortunately, the current amendment of the law passed hastily without the proper review procedure that a democracy should have. Moreover, the votes on this round of legislative reform were not recorded on purpose. We do not even know which legislators were in favor of or against each article, making it impossible to hold them accountable democratically. 

Under the KMT-TPP legislative investigation law, the subjects of investigation – including ordinary citizens – must appear before the legislature whenever summoned, and cannot remain silent. They even need the chairman’s permission to have a lawyer present. This raises concerns among many protesters about whether lawmakers will abuse their power to harass or retaliate against ordinary citizens arbitrarily. 

The Euroview, published by the European Chamber of Commerce Taiwan, warned its members to understand the potential risks of the new legislation because it gives legislators power to ask for classified documents of a private company. The law even empowers legislators to “investigate” ongoing judicial cases and possibly influence the trials in the court. 

Lastly, Wu seems to imply that many protesters and NGOs speaking out against the new law were mobilized by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). This is quite far from the truth. Since the third reading on May 28, more than 120 law professors from various universities in Taiwan have co-signed a joint statement expressing concern about this amendment. Dozens of international scholars also expressed concern in an open letter published by The Diplomat. It would be quite farfetched to assume that all of these nonpartisan academics were motivated by the DPP. 

Meanwhile, as a group of political scientists, our observations also lead us to conclude that the DPP is not the reason for such a high turnout. Among the three waves of protests, we did not see the tour buses usually associated with mobilizations during campaign events. As our previous analysis on The Diplomat argued, the DPP currently does not have such significant mobilization capabilities. The third wave of what has been dubbed the “Bluebird Movement” on May 28 had stations in various cities across Taiwan. It is clear that the DPP alone could not have mobilized so many people in so many places. Numerous energetic artworks, activities, songs, and even a flash orchestra during the Bluebird Movement all indicate a crowd with a high level of creativity – something that suggests this was not merely partisan mobilization.

Taiwan is already a mature democracy. Most Taiwanese people believe that democracy is the only game in town, so everyone accepted the 2024 election result with little turmoil in society. During the three waves of the Bluebird Movement, tens of thousands surrounded the Legislative Yuan without any violent clashes, which is the best evidence of Taiwan’s mature democracy. 

However, at the same time, this round of legislative reform, while increasing the power of legislators to check the government, has raised concerns among many protesters that it will lead to an imbalance and excessive power of the Legislative Yuan. This is why tens of thousands of people were willing to take to the streets in the pouring rain three times in a row, hoping that legislators could hear their voices. They welcome the “checks” but worry about “imbalances.” 

Guest Author

Austin Horng-En Wang

Austin Horng-En Wang is an assistant professor of Political Science at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Follow on X: @wearytolove

Guest Author

Charles K. S. Wu

Charles K. S. Wu is an assistant professor of Political Science at the University of South Alabama. Follow on X: @kuanshengtwn

Guest Author

Yao-Yuan Yeh

Yao-Yuan Yeh is the Fayez Sarofim – Cullen Trust for Higher Education Endowed Chair in International Studies, chair of International Studies & Modern Languages Department, and chair of Political Science Department at the University of St Thomas, Houston. Follow on X: @yeh2sctw

Guest Author

Fang-Yu Chen

Fang-Yu Chen is an assistant professor of Political Science at Soochow University, Taiwan. Follow on X: @FangYu_80168