Wed, Nov 03, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Arms bill bites the dust, for now

NO GO The pan-blue camp delivered on their promise to block the arms-procurement bill in the Procedure Committee, delaying debate until after December's poll

By Debby Wu  /  STAFF REPORTER

A policeman tries to block Democratic Progressive Party legislative candidate Kao Chien-chih and his supporters as they protest on top of a remodeled truck in front of the Legislative Yuan yesterday.

PHOTO: GEORGE TSORNG, TAIPEI TIMES

The arms-procurement bill again failed to pass the legislature's Procedure Committee yesterday, all but dashing government hopes for it to be reviewed by the legislature before legislative elections next month.

There is one more committee session to be held next Tuesday, but even if the bill is passed at that meeting, there will not be another sitting of the current legislative session to allow the statute to be delivered to relevant committees for review.

The bill's failure to pass the committee resulted from objections by the pan-blue camp, with some opposition legislators expressing hostility toward the bill before the meeting started.

Yesterday's highly anticipated meeting saw the presence of committee members who otherwise rarely attend.

Though there were neither lunch box fights nor scuffles yesterday, the committee members verbally abused each other and quarreled throughout the meeting.

The meeting was chaired by Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) caucus whip Tsai Huang-liang (蔡煌瑯), who opened the session with an instruction that lunch boxes be taken from the room. Tsai also condemned Hsieh Ta-ning (謝大寧), who resigned as convener of the Democracy Advancement Alliance yesterday, for accusing unnamed lawmakers of being bribed by the Ministry of National Defense to support the bill. The ministry has commenced legal action against Hsieh.

Speaking on the bill, pan-green camp committee members said it was necessary to fortify the nation's defenses, while pan-blue camp members suggested the bill would be best put aside until after the election so that the public could have a say in the issue.

"If the pan-blue camp really considers the cost to be too high, at least we should allow the bill to pass the committee and let the lawmakers conduct a professional debate on the issue in the relevant committees," DPP Legislator Lee Wen-chung (李文忠) said.

One pan-blue camp lawmaker said the election should determine the fate of the bill.

"Lawmakers who support or object to the deal will be able to see what the people really want after the election. It is better to discuss the deal after the election," People First Party (PFP) Legislator Lee Yung-ping (李永萍) said.

But when the time came to vote on the bill, Tsai announced an adjournment, and pan-green lawmakers left the meeting in protest.

As the lawmakers withdrew, the two camps hurled insults at each other. Pan-green lawmakers called the pan-blue legislators members of a "China Party," while the pan-blue lawmakers scolded the pan-green lawmakers for being members of a "War Party."

Tsai himself disappeared for a while, leading to speculation that he had abandoned the session. But later he returned, with only two DPP lawmakers in tow. The pan-green camp lost the resulting vote.

While the two camps argued on the bill inside the legislature, anti-arms-bill activists, organized by the Democracy Advancement Alliance, protested outside. Pro-arms-bill legislative candidates and their supporters, some manning a truck modified to look like a tank, also made their presence felt.

The two sides scuffled sporadically, but no injuries were reported.

Premier Yu Shyi-kun expressed disappointment at the bill's failure to pass the committee.

"The deal was first planned and settled on when KMT Chairman Lien Chan (連戰) was premier, and PFP Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) supported the deal during the presidential election campaigns in 2000 and 2004," Yu said. "But now they have lost the presidential election, and it seems that they think national security no longer matters."

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