Today (05/01) scuffles erupted in Taiwan‘s Legislative Yuan between lawmakers of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and of the opposition Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) over the controversial issue of pension reform.
On Monday morning the Judiciary and Organic Laws and Statutes Committee of the Taiwanese legislature convened to review the draft bill of the “Civil Servants Pension Act”. The KMT, which opposes the bill, used delay tactics to boycott the lawmaking process.
First the KMT insisted that an item-by-item review should be carried out. The DPP initially rejected the proposal, then agreed in order to continue the session.
At around 3:40 p.m., the KMT caucus requested changes in the name of the draft bill and in the wording of the bill, hoping that such strategies would stall the legislative process.
When these tactics failed, the KMT demanded that representatives of the Ministry of Justice should be present at the meeting and submit their opinion on the draft bill. DPP legislator Tuan I-K’ang rejected the proposal, saying that the Ministry of Justice wasn’t required to attend the meeting. Tuan then announced that the bill could be put to the vote.
KMT lawmakers then stormed the podium and grabbed the microphone. Tuan I-K’ang refused to delay the session, insisting that he would adjourn the meeting only after the vote.
KMT legislator K’ung Wen-chi scuffled with Tuan I-K’ang, beating and pulling him. Other KMT legislators, too, used violent methods to block the proceedings. Fei Hung-t’ai took the microphone, preventing Tuan from speaking. Liao Kuo-tung pounded Tuan’s water thermos and files on the table.
During the scuffle Tuan’s glasses fell on the floor and he was sprinkled with water. KMT lawmaker Wang Yu-min insisted that representatives of the Ministry of Justice should be summoned. Tuan I-K’ang agreed to adjourn the meeting, but he stated that he would not “accept any threats.”
Pension reform is a contentious issue in Taiwanese politics.
In recent months the administration of President Ts’ai Ying-wen rolled out a series of draft bills aimed at reducing the debt burden for the state. Approximately half a million retired civil servants, teachers and military personnel would see their pensions reduced and their special savings rate, which pays 18% interest, phased out.
Thousands of public servants took to the streets in April to protest against the reform plan. Some demonstrators called the government’s policy “majority tyranny” and “government bullying.”
The Public Service Pension Fund of the Republic of China was established in 1943. According to the Fund’s official website, its aim is “to secure and steady the income for the retirees so as to facilitate the recruitment of human forces for public service, boost its morale, take care of the aged and their dependents, and establish a sound and solid retirement system.”
However, data from the Ministry of Civil Service show that the pension fund might default in 2031. In 2016 underfunded liabilities of public and labour sector pensions amounted to NTD$18 trillion, nine times the government’s annual budget expenditure. The government’s reforms would allow pensions to be funded until 2044, though they would reduce retired civil servants’ living standards.
But behind the issue of pension reform there is the underlying issue of political legitimacy which has plagued Taiwan’s government since the era of KMT dictatorial rule.
In 2014 the Sunflower Movement blocked the KMT government for weeks in order to stop a free trade deal with China. The protesters called into question the legitimacy of the ruling party, which many view as discredited due to its authoritarian past.
On the other hand, protesters opposed to the recent pension reform attempts by the DPP have adopted the tactics of the Sunflower Movement, showing a similar distrust of the authorities. The KMT and the DPP continue to represent two different ideas of Taiwan that appear irreconcilable.
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