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Taiwan: Kung-fu legislature

Controversial bills result in pushing, shoving, throwing things and general misbehavior on the legislative floor.

TAIPEI, Taiwan — He looked like a crowd-surfer at a punk rock show.

Clad in a cream-colored party vest with his name stitched on the back in green and a headband around his graying hair, the pro-independence legislator bobbed in the air in front of the speaker's lectern. Shouting filled the chamber as he was pushed and pulled by a sea of clutching hands.

His fellow legislators tried to scale the speaker's platform, only to be pushed away by ruling party legislators. One pro-independence legislator tumbled ass over elbow to the floor.

Something flew through the air and struck a ruling party legislator in the face. The victim put a hand over his eye and raised his other hand like an injured soccer player asking to be taken off the field.

Welcome to Taiwan's legislature, one of the unruliest in Asia or, really, anywhere in the world. Its melees have made it onto CNN and sparked regular bouts of soul-searching here over the "loss of face" for Taiwan. But few think the chamber's likely to learn better manners anytime soon.

"The legislature is not a regular law-making platform — it's a martial arts platform," said ruling Kuomintang legislator Alex Tsai. "Especially when some legislators want to show off how much they
oppose some bills."

So it went on July 8, when the legislature convened to take up the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA), a controversial China-Taiwan trade deal. In a surprise move, the speaker abruptly announced that the bill would proceed directly to a second and final reading within days, skipping committee review.

That's when pro-independence legislators, from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), went bananas. They charged the speaker's lectern, attempting to block the procedure. Tsai was one of the Kuomingtang (KMT) lawmakers on "defense," swatting away climbers' arms with a mischievous, amused grin on his face.

Just minutes after the session opened, it adjourned in chaos. Two legislators went to the hospital for minor injuries.

A hive of journalists buzzed outside, swapping information. One key point in dispute: what exactly had hit the KMT legislator's face? Some said a calculator; others, a small clock.

Said one visibly excited TV reporter: "They haven't fought much recently," before scurrying away to do a stand-up report.

A KMT legislator came outside to the steps in front of the chamber to show off his battle scars to the media pack. "We regret that the DPP uses violent methods, hurting the legislature's image and Taiwan's image," one of his party-mates said.

By now, it's a ritual. Legislators from both sides admit that much of the tussling is about as "real" as U.S. professional wrestling and is mostly a show for the T.V. cameras. They prepare for battle by slipping on sneakers or other soft-soled shoes and making other wardrobe adjustments.

"I can't wear a tie — sometimes it's dangerous," said opposition DPP legislator Twu Shiing-jer, explaining that ties only give the other side something to pull on in the heat of battle.