Taiwan lawmakers brawl over nuclear plant referendum

03.08.2013 01:06

Taiwanese lawmakers exchanged punches
and threw water at each other Friday ahead
of an expected vote that would authorize a
referendum on whether to finish a fourth
nuclear power plant on this densely
populated island of 23 million people.
Nuclear power has long been a contentious
issue in Taiwan and became more so
following the Fukushima nuclear disaster in
Japan in 2011. While many Taiwanese
consider nuclear power generation an
unacceptable safety risk for the earthquake-
prone island, economic analyses suggest
disruptive power shortages are inevitable if
the fourth plant is not completed.
Friday's fracas pitted the pro-referendum
forces of President Ma Ying-jeou's ruling
Nationalist Party against strongly anti-
nuclear forces affiliated with the main
opposition Democratic Progressive Party. DPP
lawmakers occupied the legislative podium
late Thursday night amid vows to disrupt the
vote. It had not taken place by midday Friday,
but with a large Nationalist majority in the
113-seat legislature, the referendum bill is
expected to pass easily.
Construction of Taiwan's fourth nuclear
power plant began in 1997 but was halted
while the DPP was in power between 2000
and 2008. If the referendum is passed it
could become operational by 2016.
Physical confrontations broke out early in
Friday's session. Associated Press television
footage shows some eight people pushing
and shoving in one scrum. Two people
scuffled on the floor, while others tried to
separate them. More than a dozen activists
in bright yellow shirts chanted and waved
signs on a nearby balcony, and several of
them splashed water onto lawmakers below.
A few water bottles were thrown into the
Some DPP lawmakers object to the idea of
any nuclear referendum at all, while others
say that the language in the bill needs to be
changed because it is prejudicial. According
to the bill under discussion, referendum
voters would be asked to vote on whether
they agree with the proposition that "the
construction of the fourth nuclear power
plant should be halted and that it not
become operational."
Taiwan began transitioning away from a one-
party martial law regime in 1987 and is
regarded today as one of Asia's most vibrant
democracies. But its political process has
been undermined by occasional outbursts of
violence in the legislature, much of which
appears to be deliberately designed to score
points among hardline supporters on either
side of the island's longstanding political