by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: Chen Jiau-hua/Facebook

HUNDREDS OF PROTESTERS took the streets of Taipei on Sunday for a march in support of animal rights. The march was organized by more than 70 different civil society groups and took place despite one of the coldest days in the year, as well as rain. 

The protest had demanded the placement of animal rights in the constitution. The march began at 2 PM at Ketagalan Boulevard, in front of the Presidential Office, and set out for the Legislative Yuan a short distance away. Once arriving at the legislature, the march called on politicians to pass a constitutional amendment to protect animal rights, before returning to Ketagalan Boulevard. 

The march was among the rare protests in Taiwan to enjoy bipartisan support, with politicians from the DPP, KMT, NPP, and TPP all making appearances at the rally, and giving speeches to the effect. According to DPP city councilor Hsu Shu-hua, President Tsai Ing-wen has indicated to the DPP Central Standing Committee that she backs the demands of the protests. 

As such, it is possible that a constitutional amendment could indeed be made for animal protection rights. But for this to happen, the Legislative Yuan’s Constitutional Amendment Committee would have to approve the issue, which would then be voted on at a legislative session that 3/4ths of all legislators needed to be present at. 3/4th of the legislators present would then need to support the amendment. 

Finally, the constitutional amendment would be put to a national vote on an upcoming referendum, and would pass into law if half of all eligible voters supported it. As stated by Legislative Yuan president Yu Shyi-kun, if the Constitutional Amendment Committee agreed to it, the issue could be put to a referendum vote as quickly as November. 

Photo credit: Hung Meng-kai/Facebook

What the specifics of that constitutional amendment are to consist of would be up for debate. Broadly speaking, placing animal rights in the constitution would allow for other laws that protect animals, such as amendments to how the Civil Code currently defines animals as objects or property. 

Most likely, some issues would be debated, such as the fattening of pigs for Hakka harvest festivals, or Indigenous hunting. Other issues might have to be negotiated; in a similar timeframe to the march, one saw criticisms of a planned solar farm in Miaoli that environmentalists believe would threaten the habitat of the endangered leopard cat, Taiwan’s only living native species of wild cat. 

Apart from protesters calling for an amendment to the constitution, participants in the march also called for more institutional support to protect animals. For example, protesters brought up that despite 250,000 cases of animal cruelty per year, the Animal Protection Division of the Council of Agriculture’s Department of Animal Husbandry is the only government division in charge of taking up such cases, and cannot handle all of these cases. 

For its part, the DPP has stated that the central government will work with local governments to strengthen protection for animals, and to ensure that more resources are devoted to the issue. At the same time, regarding the issue of constitutional amendments, the DPP has criticized the KMT for preventing constitutional amendments from taking place by refusing to negotiate with the DPP, and instead seeking to boycott all proposed constitutional amendments. As a result, according to DPP spokesperson Hsieh Pei-fen, 75 proposed amendments, some of which included animal protection rights, could not progress beyond the Constitutional Amendment Committee. 

It remains to be seen if the issue will gain wider circulation. Few political parties in Taiwan, it seems, want to be perceived as opposed to animal rights. Whether political parties will actually take action on the issue, however, is another matter entirely. Namely, politicians may be little encouraged to action unless it will cost or gain them votes, and political expediency may take priority over measures that actually protect animals. 

To this extent, it also proves another question entirely as to how the Taiwanese public would vote on a constitutional amendment regarding animal rights. If the vote came to the national referendum, it is possible that the pan-Green and pan-Blue camps would end up contesting the issue in some way, affecting possible outcomes of the vote. The last time that a proposed constitutional amendment was put to the national vote was in 2005. 

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