Necessary Reforms or Power Grab? A Recap on the Recent Legislative Yuan Drama

Necessary Reforms or Power Grab? A Recap on the Recent Legislative Yuan Drama

LY Protests Masthead
Necessary Reforms or Power Grab? A Recap on the Recent Legislative Yuan Drama

Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan (LY, 立法院) has long been a dynamic and sometimes tumultuous arena for political maneuvering. The most recent elections, held in January 2024, resulted in no party obtaining a majority in the LY–but with the Kuomintang (KMT, 國民黨) winning a plurality of seats. In a bid to reshape legislative processes and potentially exert further influence over the new Lai Ching-te (賴清德) administration, the KMT–in collaboration with the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP, 民眾黨)–recently proposed and passed significant changes to the rules governing the LY’s investigative powers. This move has sparked intense debate, with the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP, 民進黨) strongly opposing the proposal, viewing it as a threat to democratic norms, legislative efficiency, and the separation of powers between branches of the government. Conversely, the KMT argues the bill is necessary to strengthen Taiwan’s democracy by establishing a more robust system of checks and balances. In order to understand the potential implications of these changes, it is important to understand what is included in the KMT/TPP’s proposal and the DPP’s counter proposal, as well as how Taiwan’s LY functions. 

How the Legislative Yuan Functions

Although the LY’s function is similar to the US Congress, Taiwan’s legislature is unicameral (meaning one house) while the US Congress is bicameral (with two houses, the House of Representatives and the Senate). The LY is an important branch of government in Taiwan that has the authority to enact legislation on a wide range of matters, including: statutes, budgets, martial law, amnesties, declarations of war or peace, treaties, and other significant issues of national importance. The LY can also potentially check the power of the executive branch through impeachment.

The lengthy process behind getting bills proposed and passed in the LY is different from that of the US Congress. All bills—except budgetary bills, which must originate from the Executive Yuan—can be proposed from the Executive Yuan, Judicial Yuan, Examination Yuan, Control Yuan, legislators themselves, or political parties that are represented in the LY. After a bill is sent to the LY, the title is read aloud in the first reading of the bill. After this, the bill gets sent to the appropriate committee for further consideration, or else sent directly to the second reading. When a bill gets sent to an appropriate committee, the committees may ask for the relevant government agencies or members of the public with specialized knowledge to provide legislators with advice. After the committee deliberations, the bill is sent to the second reading process, wherein the LY can debate the bill further. After a bill passes the second reading, then the third reading occurs. Only statutory or budgetary bills are required to go through three separate readings; all other bills require two readings. If a bill passes the third reading, it is sent to the president, who can either sign the bill into law or veto it. 

It is important to note that the LY already possesses established investigative powers. Taiwan’s Constitutional Court, in Interpretation No. 585 (法院大法官釋字第585號解釋) issued in 2004, addressed the scope and limitations of the LY’s investigative powers. The Court recognized the importance of investigative authority for the Legislative Yuan to effectively fulfill its legislative duties. Underscoring the need for the LY to respect the authorities of other government branches—particularly regarding executive privilege—the interpretation emphasized that the LY’s power is not absolute and must be exercised within the bounds of the Constitution. Additionally, the Court advocated for resolving disputes concerning the scope of investigative power through negotiation or judicial review. Despite the LY already having investigative powers, why has the bill proposed by the KMT/TPP drawn so much controversy

Debates over the Law Governing the Legislative Yuan`s Power in the Legislative Yuan on May 24, 2024

Image: The floor of the Legislative Yuan, with legislators displaying contending signs supporting or opposing the draft amendment on the LY’s oversight authorities (May 24, 2024). (Image source: Legislative Yuan / Wikimedia Commons)

The Content of the Bills

The amendments to the Legislative Yuan Exercise of Official Powers Law (立法院職權行使法) has prompted considerable controversy in and out of Taiwan. Taiwan has witnessed public protests in response to the KMT-TPP alliance’s attempt to expedite a bill enhancing legislative powers over the executive branch. These protests reflect widespread concern over the potential implications for Taiwan’s democratic governance. Additionally, a group of 30 international scholars has voiced its opposition through an open letter, highlighting the bill’s risks and urging a reconsideration of its rapid progression.

Here are the key points of the KMT/TPP bill (based on the May 24 second reading of the bill) and the DPP’s counterproposal: 

[There has been a third reading of the KMT/TPP bill (May 28) – but the contents of the third reading bill have not been made publicly available as of June 10, 2024]



DPP Bill

Investigative Bodies / Powers

Investigation Committees: Composed of members from each political party proportional to their seats in the LY. 

Investigation Task Forces: Set up an investigation task force to require government agencies, legal persons (businesses, organizations), and individuals related to specific bills to testify and produce documents.

Investigative Powers: Establishes a new investigative committee through a resolution by the entire LY. Limits investigative power to matters closely related to the LY’s constitutional powers. Allows requesting documents, reviewing originals, holding public hearings, and inviting experts for opinions.

Document Access

Who Must Comply: Agencies, legal persons (businesses, organizations), and individuals related to the specific bill under investigation. 

Documents Requested: Documents and files relevant to the investigation. 

Timeframe: Must be provided within five days unless there’s a legal reason or legitimate justification.

Who Must Comply: Agencies, relevant scholars and experts, and public interest groups

Documents Requested: Grants agencies the right to request documents if there are legitimate reasons.

Timeframe: Maintains the 5-day deadline for providing documents with justifications for refusal. Allows the committee to extend or shorten the deadline (with minimum 3 days notice for shortening).

Hearing Process

Notification: The LY must notify relevant parties 15 days before a hearing with details on the matters to be discussed. 

Witness Obligations: Those invited must attend unless they have a justifiable reason. Personnel invited to hearings at the LY should answer truthfully and may not refuse to make statements, make incomplete statements, or make false statements.

Hearing Type: Hearings shall be held in public unless they involve matters that must be kept confidential by law, in which case they shall be held in secret meetings.

Witness Obligations: Agencies must provide requested documents or information within five days unless refusal is based on legal or legitimate reasons. If relevant documents are already obtained by judicial or supervisory authorities, the agency must state reasons and provide a copy. If unable to provide a copy, legitimate reasons must be stated.

Hearing Type: Public hearings are mandatory for personnel consent and investigation matters, involving input from relevant stakeholders. Secret meetings are held for matters involving national security or sensitive issues.


Non-Compliance with Document Requests: Government agencies/public servants face referral to the Supervisory Yuan for potential disciplinary action. Public servants, legal persons, and individuals can be fined NTD $20,000 – NTD $200,000 (USD $619 – USD $6,169), with potential for repeated fines until compliance. Individuals can appeal through an administrative lawsuit. 

False Statements During Hearings: Same potential fines and referral to the Supervisory Yuan as above.

Penalties for Non-Compliancewith Document Requests: Increases the fine range for refusing, delaying, or concealing documents to NTD $10,000 – NTD $300,000 (USD $308 – USD $9,253) with potential consecutive fines.


Deadline: Investigation committees or task forces must submit reports with their findings and recommendations within 30 days of completing the investigation.

Transparency: Hearing records shall be kept.

Deadline: The LY decides the interim and final reports deadlines.

Transparency: Requires video and audio recording of bill negotiations between party groups. Mandates publishing the entire negotiation process in the official report. Demands broadcasting video recordings of consultations in real-time. Enforces attaching written explanations and legislative reasons for amendments significantly different from the original proposal.

Graphic source: KMT bill and DPP bill

Potential Implications for the New Lai Administration

While the KMT/TPP bill bolsters legislative oversight and information access for the LY, this amendment to the Law on the Exercise of Powers of the Legislative Yuan carries the potential to be a political weapon and expose sensitive information that could fall into the wrong hands–particularly given concerns about potential ties between certain KMT legislators and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Granting the LY unfettered access to documents, unrestricted summons power, and the ability to levy fines for subjective non-compliance creates a prime opportunity for the KMT to hobble the newly elected Lai Ching-te administration. Frequent and intrusive investigations could become a tool to disrupt Lai’s agenda and paint his administration as obstructive or lacking transparency. 

The true danger, however, lies in the erosion of Taiwan’s democratic checks and balances. The proposed amendments could tilt the power dynamic heavily towards the legislature, paving the way for politically motivated investigations and potential abuses of power. In the absence of safeguards against abuse, fines levied against individuals and entities unwilling to comply with LY demands could have a chilling effect, discouraging open and honest engagement with the government. A healthy democracy thrives on a delicate balance: empowering the legislature for effective oversight while safeguarding the executive branch from undue interference. The KMT’s proposal, if enacted without robust safeguards, threatens to tip this balance, potentially weakening the very foundations of Taiwan’s democracy. In response to comment, the DPP’s Washington DC mission stated that it is “concerned that the role of legislative investigations could evolve in a way that threatens the democratic fabric of Taiwan over the next decade. If the LY’s power to subpoena and penalize individuals is expanded without adequate checks, it could lead to an environment where elected officials with partisan intentions might misuse these powers, potentially leading to significant civil rights abuses and a decrease in political and judicial independence.” [1] Notably, the KMT’s Washington DC mission did not respond to this query about the future implications of the bill, leaving questions about the party’s stance on this critical issue unanswered. 

The DPP’s counter-proposal, while aiming to address the KMT’s potentially weaponized oversight, introduces a different set of challenges. The emphasis on limitations and confidentiality safeguards, though necessary, could create bureaucratic hurdles that slow down investigations. Additionally, the DPP’s focus on transparency through public reports and video recordings might be met with resistance, raising concerns about selective leaks or the potential for sensitive information to be unintentionally revealed, even with redactions. 

Both proposals highlight the need for a nuanced approach that strengthens legislative oversight without jeopardizing Taiwan’s democratic equilibrium. Striking a balance between transparency and confidentiality, and between efficiency and safeguards, will be crucial. Collaborative efforts from both parties are essential to crafting effective legislation that empowers the LY for responsible oversight while maintaining healthy checks and balances within the government.

After the passage of the amendment during the third reading, on June 6, Taiwan’s premier Cho Jung-tai (卓榮泰) sent the bill back to the LY, in which seven reasons were cited for not being able to promulgate the law. The seven reasons include there was lack of substantive discussion (沒有實質討論), questioning the president is unconstitutional (質詢總統違憲), the scope of hearings is too broad (聽證範圍過廣), violation of procedural justice (違反程序正義), indefinite review of personnel approval reviews (無期限審查人事同意權), the definition of contempt of LY is unclear (藐視國會定義不明), and that officials may be punished for making false statements (懷疑官員虛偽陳述可課以刑責). The LY will have 15 days to vote on the bill again, and if it passes with a simple majority, then the President must promulgate it. 

The main point: The KMT and DPP amendments on the Legislative Yuan’s investigative powers represent opposing ends of a spectrum, with the KMT prioritizing broad legislative oversight authority and the DPP emphasizing safeguards to avoid infringing on executive functions. Finding a balanced approach that ensures effective oversight while protecting democratic principles is critical for Taiwan’s future.

[1] E-mail communication between the author and DPP representative office in Washington DC  (May 30, 2024).