by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: Brian Hioe

THE KMT’S PLANNED legislative changes continue to be contentious, with demonstrations last Friday reaching 100,000 individuals.

The growth in the protests has been exponential. Though the issue at hand, that of efforts by the KMT to expand legislative powers in a manner that would grant new prosecutorial powers to legislators, had come up in the news on a number of occasions, it was only until last Friday that they sparked wider concerns. Arguably, this only took place because of images of fighting in the legislature that went viral online.

As such, demonstrations went from 300 individuals on May 17th to 30,000 individuals on May 28th, followed by 100,000 on May 24th. With more protests planned for tomorrow, it is to be seen whether the protest movement maintains its momentum. Certainly, that tomorrow is a Tuesday and not a Friday night means that there could be less turnout. But it is also possible that the size of protests continues to increase over time, with those previously hesitant to take to the streets more willing after seeing friends, family, and acquaintances willing to do so.

What is more surprising is to what extent the KMT and its ally, the TPP, has no plans to back down from the issue. Namely, the KMT and TPP see their party base as hoping for these legislative changes, and so are willing to change course despite the popular pushback.

It is probable that some form of counter-protest will be organized by the KMT and TPP in the near future. Though a counter-protest did take place last Friday on the other side of Qingdao East Road, this only drew several dozen individuals, in spite of that large LED screens had been set up. Likewise, though a TPP rally held on Sunday, one day before Lai Ching-te’s inauguration on May 20th, drew 8,000, this was not explicitly about the legal changes. Rather, the protest was more generally critical of the Tsai administration.

Yet it is a question as to why the KMT and TPP are both so willing to stake so much political capital on the issue of legislative changes. In part, the KMT has embraced a narrative that it is merely seeking to accomplish what the DPP has been unable to, seeing as both sides have embraced the call for congressional reform in past years. But the DPP has denied that its congressional reforms are the same as those called for by the KMT, arguing that previous bills on congressional reform pushed for by the party in 2016 are not the same.

Photo credit: Brian Hioe

The KMT would be seeking to expand legislative powers perhaps because it views itself as unable to win presidential elections, having experienced successive defeats in the past decade at the polls. By contrast, because of the existence of clientelist and patronage networks whose influence is still deeply rooted in Taiwanese politics, going back to the authoritarian period, the KMT can still win legislative elections.

As such, the effort is made to change the fundamental balance of powers in Taiwan by granting legislators some of the powers currently reserved for the executive and judicial branches of government. In this way, the KMT’s actions are an accommodation to political weakness.

At the same time, one notes that the DPP only ever controlled the legislature from 2016 to 2024 in Taiwanese history, and that this was the only time a non-KMT party held the majority in the legislature. Namely, the KMT’s deep-rooted influence in local politics has continued to make it difficult for the DPP to win elections. And yet, as we see, the return to a past status quo now provokes sufficient outrage from the Taiwanese public that we see mass mobilizations.

It is less clear as to why the TPP has been willing to side with the KMT on the issue of congressional reforms to the hilt. Namely, the TPP being willing to risk so much political capital on such a contentious issue will further cement the view of the TPP as simply being a “little blue” sidekick party of the KMT, which is not distinguishable from the KMT except for being smaller. The TPP may have cost itself its long-term future by aligning too closely with the KMT.

In some way, then, both party’s actions reflect a sort of political tunnel vision that has set in among the pan-Blue camp. Both party’s actions at present may seem viable in the short-term, but may ultimately work against it in the long term.

It is still unclear what the endgame for the protests will be, however, with the KMT and TPP refusing to back down from the issue and both parties having the majority in the legislature if they continue to vote together. Fractures in both parties are also not visible at present. It is to be seen if it ends up being backroom dealmaking between the TPP, KMT, and DPP that ends up resolving the political crisis either, in a similar manner to how this ended up playing a role in the resolution of the 2014 Sunflower Movement because of KMT majority speaker Wang Jinping being willing to take a step back politically from the trade deal the movement opposed. Yet the challenge at hand for this outcome may precisely be that there is no comparable figure to Wang at present.

What comes next is unclear. Regardless, demonstrations are set to take place again tomorrow outside of the Legislative Yuan, with the bill again to be discussed in the legislature.

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