March calls for constitutional animal rights on Sunday

by Brian Hioe

PPhoto credit: Chen Jiau-hua/Facebook

HUNDREDS OF PROTESTERS took to the streets of Taipei on Sunday for a march in support of animal rights. The march was organized by more than 70 different civil society groups and took place despite one of the coldest days of the year, as well as rain.

The protest had demanded the placement of animal rights in the constitution. The march started at 2 p.m. on Ketagalan Boulevard, in front of the presidential office, and headed towards the Legislative Yuan a short distance away. Once in the legislature, the march called on politicians to pass a constitutional amendment to protect animal rights, before returning to Ketagalan Boulevard.

The march was one of the few protests in Taiwan to enjoy bipartisan support, with politicians from the DPP, KMT, NPP and TPP all making appearances at the rally and giving speeches to that effect. According to DPP city councilor Hsu Shu-hua, President Tsai Ing-wen told the DPP Central Standing Committee that she supports the demands of the protests.

As such, it is possible that a constitutional amendment could indeed be made to animal protection rights. But for that to happen, the Legislative Yuan Constitutional Amendment Committee would have to approve the issue, which would then be voted on in a legislative session at which 3/4 of all legislators had to be present. 3/4 of the legislators present should then support the amendment.

Finally, the constitutional amendment would be put to a national vote in an upcoming referendum and would become law if half of all eligible voters support it. As Legislative Yuan Chairman Yu Shyi-kun said, if the Constitutional Amendment Committee agrees, the issue could go to a referendum vote as early as November.

Photo credit: Hung Meng-kai/Facebook

The details of this constitutional amendment must be debated. Generally speaking, enshrining animal rights in the constitution would allow for other laws that protect animals, such as changes to how the Civil Code currently defines animals as objects or property.

Most likely, some issues would be debated, such as fattening pigs for Hakka harvest festivals or indigenous hunting. Other issues may need to be negotiated; in a timeframe similar to the march, we saw criticism of a solar farm project in Miaoli that conservationists believe it would threaten the habitat of the endangered leopard cat, the only species of wild cat native to Taiwan.

Along with protesters calling for a constitutional amendment, march participants also called for more institutional support to protect animals. For example, protesters raised that despite 250,000 cases of animal cruelty per year, the Animal Welfare Division of the Animal Husbandry Department of the Board of Agriculture is the only government division responsible for handling such files, and cannot handle all of these files.

For his part, the DPP said the central government will work with local governments to strengthen animal welfare and ensure that more resources are devoted to the issue. At the same time, regarding the issue of constitutional amendments, the DPP criticized the KMT for preventing the constitutional amendments from taking place by refusing to negotiate with the DPP and instead seeking to boycott all proposed constitutional amendments. As a result, according to the DPP spokesperson Hsieh Pei-fen, 75 proposed amendments, some of which included animal welfare rights, failed to progress past the Constitutional Amendment Committee.

It remains to be seen whether the number will gain in circulation. Few political parties in Taiwan, it seems, want to be seen as opposed to animal rights. Whether political parties will actually act on the issue, however, is another matter altogether. Namely, politicians may have little incentive to act unless it costs or wins them votes, and political expediency may take precedence over measures that actually protect animals.

To that extent, it also proves another question of how the Taiwanese public would vote on a constitutional amendment regarding animal rights. If the vote comes to the national referendum, it is possible that the pan-green and pan-blue camps will end up contesting the issue in one way or another, affecting the possible results of the vote. The last time a draft constitutional amendment was put to a national vote was in 2005.

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