Grown men and women tackling each other to the ground, flipping chairs, blaring air horns, and throwing water balloons — welcome to the Taiwanese parliament.
Members of Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan, or parliament, are notorious for breaking out spontaneously in brawls over contentious pieces of legislation, but a recent infrastructure spending bill from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party has proven to be particularly controversial, prompting some pretty ugly fistfights.
The first fight broke out last Thursday when opposition members, led by the conservative Kuomintang Party, criticized the new infrastructure bill for unfairly favoring cities and counties that traditionally support the ruling DPP. They allege that the ruling party under President Tsai Ing-wen is using the massive $29 billion stimulus plan to court voters ahead of local elections in 2018.
And boy, are they mad about it. In this video from the BBC, politicians are shown grabbing each other’s throats, launching water bombs at their rivals, and blaring air horns to drown each other out.
The fighting continued on Tuesday during a legislative meeting, which saw opposition members tackle DPP members to the ground in headlocks and unplug the cables of speakers to prevent the infrastructure bill from moving forward.
And you thought the US Congress was rowdy.
A show of power
This recent spate of fights in Taiwan’s parliament is more severe than usual, but isn’t really raising eyebrows domestically. The country’s top legislative body has seen numerous and — let’s go with colorful — scuffles over the years, from politicians pelting each other with hardboiled eggs in 2004 to a DPP deputy snatching a written proposal of a bill and shoving it into her mouth in 2006.
But political tensions have risen to new heights in recent years.
During the 2016 election, the ruling DPP was voted into power with 69 seats in parliament, leaving opposition parties with just 44 seats. As a minority in parliament, opposition parties often see physical fights as the only way to block legislation that they disagree with, and, more importantly, as a way to show voters (albeit in the most outrageous ways possible) that they’re trying.
"The legislators are partly acting — trying to show their constituents they're working hard to fight for their cause," Danny, a Taiwanese journalist who wished to be identified only by his first name, told the BBC.
This has become particularly important not just in the lead-up to the 2018 local elections, but also in light of President Tsai’s plummeting popularity in the country.
Tsai, the country’s first woman leader, had a challenging to-do list when she took office in 2016. She had to make a decision on the growing debate around LGBTQ rights in Taiwan (eventually passing Asia’s first same-sex marriage law) and try to keep the peace with China without ceding the sense of independence that a majority of Taiwanese feel.
Voters, it seems, haven’t been impressed with what she’s done: Approval ratings for Tsai have dropped from over 70 percent when she was elected in May last year to under 40 percent just a year later.
Opposition leaders see this moment of weakness for Tsai as a chance to swoop in and gain support. They’re not about to give up this valuable opportunity, even if that means they have to push up their shirtsleeves and get their hands dirty.