label r shifted
Session C5
The 2012 Korean Anti-Brawling Reform: Lessons for Taiwan?
鮑彤 Nathan Batto
Institute of Political Science, Academia Sinica, Taiwan

Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan has been plagued by brawling for three decades. Throughout the democratic era, legislators have routinely violated the formal rules by engaging in physical conflicts. Brawling is widely disliked by Taiwanese citizens and severely damages Taiwan’s international image. Yet Taiwanese legislators seem incapable of eschewing brawls.

While Taiwan has seen more parliamentary brawls than any other country, brawls are not unique to Taiwan. South Korea also experienced frequent brawling in the first two decades after democratization. However, since a 2012 legislative reform package, there have been no subsequent brawls in South Korea. What lessons can Taiwan learn from Korea?

This paper will examine the changes in incentives facing Korean legislators before and after 2012. In-depth interviews with leading Korean legislative scholars suggest five explanations for why brawling has ended. First, the speaker no longer has the right to unilaterally discharge bills from committee. Second, the reform instituted a filibuster system, giving the opposition an alternate way to obstruct bills it does not like. Third, the reform instituted stronger potential penalties for brawling legislators. Fourth, following two particularly intense brawls in 2009 and 2011, the Korean public became less tolerant of brawling behavior. Fifth, the previous extreme centralization of Korean politics has relaxed somewhat in the past decade, so that legislators pay more attention to what the average voter wants. Some of these deal with changes in the National Assembly’s internal rules, others involve the increasing importance of local politics, and yet others point to a norm change in the general public. These five explanations are complementary rather than competing; it is possible that all are correct to some extent.

Could Taiwan copy South Korea’s experience? In-depth interviews with Taiwanese legislators suggest that there are major obstacles. There is not much appetite within the majority party to rewrite the rules to limit majority powers or enhance minority powers. Moreover, minority legislators explicitly reject the idea that the current formal dilatory powers they currently have are strong enough to replace brawling. To put it another way, they doubt that a Korean-style reform would stop brawling in Taiwan. Perhaps more fundamentally, while Taiwanese citizens dislike parliamentary brawling, they do not dislike it intensely enough to spur legislators to change their behavior. There is no sign of a norm change in Taiwan similar to the purported shift in Korea after 2009. This is perhaps because Taiwanese legislators have “tamed” brawling by evolving a set of informal rules to ensure that the fights do not get out of hand. Finally, Taiwan’s politics are much less centralized than Korea’s, throwing doubt on the idea that brawling is related to centralization.