Taipei, Taiwan – Taiwan’s parliament erupted in violence on Monday as lawmakers clashed over a bill that critics say could be used to overturn former President Chen Shui-bian’s conviction on corruption charges.
The ruckus occurred after dozens of legislators from the opposition Kuomintang (KMT), armed with signs and loudspeakers, took to the podium of the legislative chamber in the early morning to prevent a third reading of the bill.
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Lawmakers pushed and shoved each other and threw water and paper as tensions over the bill boiled over.
One legislator from the ruling Democratic People’s Party (DPP) received a minor injury to his hand during a confrontation in which he was pushed out of the way.
The disorder subsided after an hour but as of midday, KMT legislators were still occupying a portion of the chamber with placards in tow.
A KMT spokesperson did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
KMT legislators say that President Tsai Ing-wen has taken advantage of Taiwan’s recent COVID-19 outbreak to pass the legislation decriminalising the use of “secret state expenses” by the executive.
They say the bill could be used retroactively to exonerate Chen, Taiwan’s first president from Tsai’s independence-leaning DPP, who was implicated in a corruption scandal in 2008 and found guilty of misusing funds.
Chen, who led the self-ruled island between 2000 and 2008, was initially sentenced to life in prison, before his sentence was cut to 19 years. He is currently out of prison on medical parole.
Prior to his fall from grace, Chen was best known for unseating the pro-Beijing KMT after decades of single-party rule.
Monday’s scuffle was not the first time tensions over the bill boiled over. A preliminary review of the draft legislation in April also became heated, according to government media, when KMT legislators tried to interrupt proceedings and threw fake banknotes.
KMT also used Monday’s protest to criticise the government’s pandemic response and the growing number of COVID-19 deaths – particularly of young children and elderly.
After nearly two and half years of keeping the virus at bay, Taiwan is now battling its worst-ever outbreak as authorities report 70,000-90,000 cases each day.
Deaths have also climbed to more than 2,000, up from 850 in the months prior to the outbreak, according to the Taiwan Centers for Disease Control.
The fatalities have notably included the sudden deaths of several very young children, which many Taiwanese attribute to failures of the healthcare system.