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Taiwan’s legislature passes changes seen as favoring China, reducing president’s power

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TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Taiwan’s opposition-controlled legislature passed changes on Tuesday that are seen as favoring China and diminishing the power of the island’s president, sparking protests by thousands of people.

The changes pushed by the opposition Nationalist Party and its allies would give the legislature greater power to control budgets, including defense spending that the party has blocked in what many see as a concession to China.

It remains unclear whether the package of bills will become law. The Executive Yuan, the executive branch of government headed by the premier, may veto legislation or pass it on to the president, who has to proclaim bills into law within 10 days. If the Executive Yuan or the president does not comply, the bills will not become law.

Thousands of people gathered outside the legislature to protest the changes. The legislative chamber was festooned with banners promoting both sides in the dispute, while arguments on the floor broke into shouting and pushing matches.

The Nationalists, also known as the KMT, officially back unification with China, from which Taiwan separated during a civil war in 1949. They took control of the legislature with a single-seat majority after elections in January, while the presidency went to Lai Ching-te of the Democratic Progressive Party, which favors Taiwan’s de facto independence from China and is hated by Beijing.

“People must stand up at this time, and we must let those legislators know that the laws they are enacting are not what we want,” said Huang Hong-wei, a protester. “That’s why so many people are taking to the streets to protest, because we used to believe in these legislators, but they didn’t do what they promised, so the people got angry.”

DPP legislators accused deputies from the KMT and the minority Taiwan People’s Party of undermining Taiwan’s democracy by expanding the legislature’s oversight of the executive branch. They denounced the legislation as creating a “black box” for what the KMT has portrayed as reforms.

“There was no discussion on the legislation this time and these bills are rough,” said Ray Wan, a protester from Kaohsiung. “Without detailed discussions, these incomplete bills will do Taiwan a great disservice.”

While the KMT controls the legislature, its speaker and its allies in the TPP were elected on party lists, meaning they answer to no actual constituents.

Taiwan was governed under martial law for 40 years under the Nationalists, who have lost three consecutive presidential elections but still hold power on the local level through well-entwined networks of business and social interests. Pro-China business groups have also captured a major share of Taiwan’s media market, even as the younger generation turns to social media for its information.

China sends planes and ships near Taiwan on a daily basis in a campaign aimed at wearing down Taiwanese opposition to unification and at deteriorating its defenses, which are strongly backed by the U.S., despite a lack of formal diplomatic ties.

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Associated Press videographer Johnson Lai contributed to this report.

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