In October 2018, tens of thousands of independence activists took to the streets for a major rally calling for an outright independence vote since Taiwan first became a democracy more than 20 years ago
President Tsai Ing-wen’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) suffered a defeat in the November 2018 local elections. The Beijing-friendly Kuomintang (KMT) won 15 of the 22 city and county seats, up from six previously, while the DPP’s share fell from 13 to just six – including Kaohsiung and Taichung, two of the most important cities in Taiwan, as well as its long-term strongholds.
Analysts attributed the DPP’s election rout on its failure in its domestic reform initiatives, from the island’s pension scheme to labour laws. However, news reports also allege that China was behind a bombardment of anti-DPP content through Facebook, Twitter and online chat groups, promoted by paid social media trolls. There are also dozens of investigations into allegations that Chinese money went to fund Taiwanese candidates opposing President Tsai and the DPP.
China still sees Taiwan as part of its territory to be reunified, despite the two sides being ruled separately since the end of a civil war on the mainland in 1949. Taiwan considers itself a sovereign state, with its own political and judicial systems, but has never declared formal independence from the mainland. Beijing has warned that it would respond with force if Taiwan tried an official split. Beijing has made a multi-pronged attack to erase Taiwan from the international stage, including blocking it from global forums and pressuring its dwindling number of official diplomatic allies. China has also successfully pressured global companies to list Taiwan as part of China on their corporate websites.
Thousands rally for Taiwan independence vote https://t.co/wdKVIq9RpN— ABS-CBN News Channel (@ANCALERTS) October 20, 2018
In the lead-up to the elections, tens of thousands of independence activists took to the streets for a major rally. The protest in central Taipei, on 21st October 2018, came as China increasingly pushes its claim to the self-ruling democratic island and President Tsai Ing-wen struggles to appease Beijing and independence factions.
It was the first large-scale protest calling for an outright independence vote since Taiwan first became a democracy more than 20 years ago. Organisers claimed a turnout of more than 100,000 people. Demonstrators gathered outside the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) headquarters chanting "Want referendum!" and "Oppose annexation!"
Organised by new group Formosa Alliance, which is backed by two pro-independence former Taiwan presidents, Lee Teng-hui and Chen Shui-bian, the rally called for a public vote on whether the island should formally declare independence from China.
A vote on independence would require an amendment to current laws, which bar referendums on changing the Constitution or sovereign territory. The Formosa Alliance is urging the DPP government, which has a majority in Parliament, to change the laws to allow such a vote.
In December 2018, Taiwanese organised several anti-tax protests inspired by the French "yellow vest" (gilet jaunes) movement. Supporters of the Taiwanese Tax and Legal Reform League - donning the yellow vest - first marched on Taiwan's Presidential Office in the capital Taipei on 19th December 2018.
The march was aimed at pressuring the Taiwanese government to make the tax system more transparent. The group also protested against the Ministry of Finance, for what they regard as an unfair policy of levying taxes and for delaying the implementation of tax exemption arrangements.
The league was founded in 2016 and has been pressuring the government ever since - but organisers said the march marked the first time they had worn yellow vests. A spokesperson for the movement said:
"We were touched by the French movement and decided to go to the streets in yellow vests…we hope that (Taiwanese President) Tsai Ing-wen will listen to people's grievances and give concessions just like Emmanuel Macron did.”
On 1st January 2019, the protesters interrupted a New Year flag-raising ceremony attended by the president. Once the flag had been raised they removed their jackets to unveil their yellow vests and banners and began shouting slogans, leading to brief scuffles with security officials.
On 24th November 2018, Taiwanese voters rejected legalising same-sex marriage in a referendum, delivering a setback to the island's LGBTQ community. Another referendum held at the same time on LGBT-inclusive education in schools was also rejected.
In May 2017, Taiwan’s Constitutional Court said that the current law covering marriage discriminated against same-sex couples. The court gave the island’s legislature two years to amend existing laws or pass new legislation to legalise same-sex unions. While the referendums will not change the need to provide legal recognition to same-sex unions, they do cast a shadow on how that will be implemented. .
Victoria Hsu, executive director of Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights said:
"We must prevail. Our constitutional court's victory is historic. It clearly recognises the freedom to marry [for] same-sex couples. We must defend that."
On 21st December 2018, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch issued an open letter urging the government not to “implement the outcomes of the referendums as this would violate human rights law, bolster discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and undermine comprehensive and inclusive education on gender and sexuality".The organisations also called on the government to enact legislation for recognising same-sex unions no later than 24th May 2019, which is the time limit set by the Constitutional Court.
Article 14 of the Constitution stipulates that the people shall have the right to freedom of association.
Article 14 of the Constitution stipulates that the people shall have the right to freedom of association. However, the right to associate was suspended for 38 years during the Martial Law period and civil society was under strict government control. After Taiwan declared an end to martial law in 1987, civil society activities and CSOs began to develop rapidly. However, the Civil Associations Act contains restrictions to the right to freedom of association.
Since it came into force, the Judicial Yuan has issued several interpretations on the Civil Associations Act, holding that its enabling statute and sub-acts violate the Constitution, as shown in Judicial Yuan Interpretations No. 479, No. 644, No. 724, and No. 733. Despite these Constitutional interpretations, the Civil Associations Act has only been amended six times, none of which has modified the Act substantially.
Currently, under the Civil Associations Act, CSOs have to apply for a permit or registration from the government; the authorities have powers to review and reject an application; and Articles 61 and 62 can still be used to prescribe penalties as punishment for organisation that operates without registration.
In 2016, after the Democratic Progressive Party won the presidential elections the new government committed to abolish the Civil Associations Act and replace it with other laws including the Social Associations Act, the Foundations Act, the Occupational Associations Act, and the Political Party Act.
The Political Party Act was passed in the legislature in December 2017. However CSOs have raised concerns about the draft of the Social Associations Act, as the authorities have failed to consult with civil society nor have they allowed citizens to participate in the law’s drafting process. Moreover, according to civil society, the reform appears to be directed by a “paternalistic mindset”, and the revised law would still grant the Ministry of the Interior the authority to review and terminate the operations of social associations.
Trade unions are independent, and most workers enjoy freedom of association, though the government strictly regulates the right to strike. Among other barriers, teachers, workers in the defense industry, and government employees are prohibited from striking.
The constitution provides for the right to freedom of peaceful assembly. However, restrictions on this right continue to exist in various laws, in particular the Assembly and Parade Act.
The constitution provides for the right to freedom of peaceful assembly. However, restrictions on this right continue to exist in various laws, in particular the Assembly and Parade Act. The Assembly and Parade Act was established in 1988 after martial law was lifted and requires individuals, planning an assembly, to apply for government approval before staging an outdoor assembly or a parade. It also places limits on the location of the assembly, its purpose and how the assembly will take place. The authorities also have wide powers to call for the dispersal of assemblies.
Civil society organisations (CSOs) have been critical of the Act and have call for it to be repealed. Interpretations of the law by the Judicial Yuan (constitutional court) including Interpretation No. 445 (restrictions on speech as unconstitutional) and Judicial Yuan Interpretation No. 718 (permit system for spontaneous assemblies as unconstitutional) have weakened the ability of the authorities to clampdown on assemblies.
However, the authorities have used other laws and statutes to suppress assemblies and demonstrations, such as arresting and detaining people for Criminal Code offenses of obstructing an officer in discharge of duties, insulting a public official, endangering public safety, or acting against compulsory enforcement.
Police in the capital, Taipei, have used a method commonly known as diubao, where police remove protesters and drop them off far away from the demonstrations, to hamper the people’s right to assembly, under the guise of enforcing the law and maintaining public order and control.
Article 11 of the Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of speech including press freedom. However, according to civil society groups, Taiwan continues to impose unreasonable restrictions.
Article 11 of the Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of speech including press freedom. However, according to civil society groups, Taiwan continues to impose unreasonable restrictions preventing civil servants from publishing statements or commenting online on issues of public concern, even in a private capacity.
The media environment in Taiwan is considered to be one of the most open in the region. It is active, reflects a diversity of views, though many outlets display strong party affiliation in their coverage. However, there are concerns about press freedom, due to significant business interests of media owners in China and advertising from Chinese companies. Journalistic independence has also been threatened by Taiwanese officials who have interfered directly in the editorial policies of state-owned media. The government does not restrict internet access.
Taiwan’s 2005 Freedom of Government Information Law enables public access to information held by government agencies, including financial audit reports and documents, administrative plans, meeting records and so forth.