Having a brawl
The article about the recent brouhaha over reporter Cameron Abadi’s criticism of Taiwan’s legislature in a Foreign Policy piece explained very clearly why lawmakers in Taipei were upset about the claims (“Lawmakers refute article’s claim they are failing Taiwan,” Aug. 11, page 3).
“Legislators from across the political spectrum ... rebutted a US magazine’s criticism of the legislature’s performance, claiming that conflicts are just part of the democratic progress,” the article said, adding that the Foreign Policy article, titled “Parliamentary Funk,” “also named Belgium, Iraq, Japan and Afghanistan as having sub-par legislatures.”
However, it seems that Abadi — as well as his critics in both the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) — would have benefited from reading a 2007 account from a Reuters dispatch by Ralph Jennnings headlined: “Legislature brawls are staged.” That 2007 article explained what many people in Taiwan have long suspected: The brawls in the legislature are staged so that politicians can garner media attention and curry favor with voters.
One wonders if Abadi did his research, instead of shooting first and asking questions later.
He would have learned that, according to Jennings’ article, “the brawling and histrionics in parliament that have put Taiwan politics on the world map for the past 20 years are staged acts, legislators and political observers say,” and that “they are planned in advance to generate media attention and garner favor with voters who like to see their representatives fight as hard as they can on tough issues.”
Jennings’ piece also added that “lawmakers even call up allies to ask that they wear sports shoes ahead of the choreographed clashes. They have been known to meet up afterwards for drinks.”
Former KMT legislator Joanna Lei (雷倩) could have told Abadi what she told Jennings: “It’s really a media event, staged for media coverage. They have a strategy session, like a war plan.”
Abadi might have further learned from reading the story that “in the 1980s and 1990s, when minority parties had no procedural way to change governing bodies controlled then by the KMT, regular fights exposed inefficiency, crookedness and authoritarianism, [according to] Shelley Rigger, an East Asian politics expert at Davidson College in the United States.”
“It’s true that politicians use [brawls] to excite their core supporters at home, but it’s unclear how effective that is,” Rigger was quoted by Jennings as saying. “We do know, though, that it hurts the legitimacy of the democratic system as a whole. Mostly it’s a delaying tactic.”
A few legislators admitted to Jennings that the staged fights were “just a ploy to win votes.” One politician, then-People First Party lawmaker Lee Hung-chun (李鴻鈞), was quoted as saying: “They just want to steal the spotlight going into the primaries. Parliament should be a sacred and noble place.”
So it seems as if both Abadi and his DPP-KMT critics got it all wrong. The fights and screaming shout fests are staged, pre-arranged and all in good fun.
Welcome to Taiwan, Mr Abadi.