Legislative violence broadly refers to any violent clashes between members of a legislature, often physically inside the legislature and triggered by divisive issues and tight votes. Such clashes have occurred in many countries across time, and notable incidents still regularly occur.
Although the sight of brawling politicians is incongruous with a legislature's stately image, its occupants, like in any other workplace, are still prone to stress and anger. The confrontational nature of politics and the high stakes often add to the simmering tensions.
Roman general and dictator Julius Caesar was famously assassinated by a group of senators on the Ides of March, 44 BC during a meeting of the Roman Senate. The senators, led by Cassius and Brutus and calling themselves Liberatores, had conspired in secret to kill Caesar and considered various ways to do so. Ultimately, they decided to kill him during a meeting of the senate, since only senators would be allowed in the meeting and Caesar would be alone. The senators drafted a fake petition requesting that Caesar hand over power to senate; Caesar called a meeting of the senate to read it. When Caesar met the senators at the Theatre of Pompey, they stabbed him repeatedly with daggers concealed under their togas, killing him. Caesar's assassination lead to a civil war for control of the republic, ending ultimately with the rise of Caesar Augustus and the founding of the Roman Empire.
- 26 March 1989
- 22 October 1997
Riots broke out in the state legislative assembly in Uttar Pradesh with MLAs using microphones, chairs as weapons. Maharashtra state: A member of the legislative assembly has been assaulted on 10 November 2009 in the state assembly. One of the members 'who can't speak Marathi' took oath in Hindi the national language of India. This was objected to by a right wing party Maharashtra Navanirmana Samithi, that wants Marathi to be the official language in the state. Four members of the Maharashtra Navaniramana Samithi were immediately suspended for 4years. Violence is extremely unusual in the legislatures of India.
- 1 December 2006
Hours before the scheduled Oath of Office ceremony for Felipe Calderón in the Legislative Palace, the legislature erupted in a brawl. It was the latest installment of the string of fistfights that rattled the Mexican legislature. The incident was broadcast on live television . In spite of such events the ceremony took place. Calderón entered the Congress chamber through a back door directly onto the podium, and in a quick ceremony took the Oath of Office amid jeers. Then, after singing the national anthem which silenced the opposition for a while, he took a quick exit rather than deliver his inaugural address to Congress (the traditional follow-up to the oath taking).
There has been several events of legislative violence in South Korea. However the politicians who were involved in the violence often don't receive criminal penalties under the civil laws.
- 12 March 2004
During a National Assembly vote on the motion to impeach President Roh Moo-hyun, supporters of the President openly clashed with opposition MPs for 20 minutes in an effort to stop the vote (which was in favor of impeachment) from being finalized.
- 22 July 2009
A brawl broke out as The National Assembly passed three bills that is set to reform the media industry. Opposition MPs blocked the Speaker from entering the room to pass the bills while both sides clashed. The bills were eventually passed the Deputy Speaker.
- 8 December 2010
|40x40px||Wikinews has related news: Taiwan MP shoves proposal in mouth|
The Legislative Yuan of the Republic of China (Taiwan) is probably the most notable example of legislative violence today. In the history of the Legislative Yuan, numerous violent acts have occurred during parliamentary sessions. It is popularly referred locally as "Legislative Brawling" (立委群毆). In 1995, the Legislative Yuan was presented with the Ig Nobel Prize Peace Award, for "demonstrating that politicians gain more by punching, kicking and gouging each other than by waging war against other nations." Listed below are the most current brawlings in the Legislative Yuan of Taiwan.
- 23 March 2004
- 7 May 2004
Lawmakers Chu Hsing-yu and Lai Ching-teh got into a brawl over legislative procedures. TV stations showed Chu grabbing Lai and trying to wrestle him onto a desk. He then tried to headbutt his colleague before jabbing him in the stomach. The brawl resulted in having a traffic policeman called into the chamber to test Chu's alcohol level, after he was accused of being drunk. The tests showed no sign of alcohol influence.
- 26 October 2004
- 30 May 2006
Amid a proposal about creating direct transport links with Mainland China, DPP deputy Wang Shu-hui snatched the written proposal and shoved it into her mouth. Opposition members failed to get her to cough it up by pulling her hair. She later spat the proposal out and tore it up. This is the third time that the DPP’s actions have stopped a vote over this issue.
- 8 May 2007
Two dozen members overwhelmed the Speaker's podium, which became a free-for-all between the ruling (DPP) and opposition (KMT) parties with punches and sprayed water, requiring at least one hospitalization. The fight was over an alleged delay of the annual budget.
On 27 April 2010, a debate on extending Russia's lease of the naval base in the Black Sea in exchange for cheaper oil descended into a mass brawl, involving smoke bombs, eggs and general fighting among members. The Speaker had to be escorted from the chamber, covered by umbrellas.
In the British House of Commons, the government and the opposition are separated by red lines drawn on the carpet. The red lines in front of the two sets of benches are two sword-lengths apart (or a little more than two sword-lengths apart); a Member is traditionally not allowed to cross the line during debates, supposedly because the Member might then be able to attack an individual on the opposite side. These procedures were made because the Members were allowed to carry weapons into the House in its founding days.
During a dispute over the conduct of British soldiers on Bloody Sunday, Independent Socialist MP Bernadette Devlin punched the Conservative Party Home Secretary Reginald Maudling. Her aggression was in response to the comments made by Maudling, who was maintaining that the British Army had fired at Bloody Sunday protesters in self-defence, contrary to the testimonies of civilian eye-witnesses (including Devlin herself). She argued that she was being denied the right to speak. Her actions resulted in her being banned from the House of Commons for six months.
In the aftermath of a rancorous debate with Labour MPs over the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill, Conservative Michael Heseltine was enraged by a group who began singing The Red Flag. He seized the chamber's ceremonial mace and brandished it over his head, but was restrained by Jim Prior, and after his departure legislative action was suspended for the day.
- February 15, 1798
Federalist Congressman Roger Griswold of Connecticut attacked Vermont Representative Matthew Lyon with a hickory walking stick in the chambers of the United States House of Representatives. Griswold struck Lyon repeatedly about the head, shoulders and arms, while Lyon attempted to shield himself from the blows. Lyon then turned and ran to the fireplace, took up a pair of metal tongs, and having armed himself thus returned to the engagement. Griswold then tripped Lyon and struck him in the face while he lay on the ground, at which point the two were separated. After a break of several minutes, however, Lyon unexpectedly pursued Griswold again with the tongs, and the brawl was re-ignited.
The two men had a prior history of conflict. On January 30 of that year, Griswold had publicly insulted Lyon by calling him a coward, and Lyon had retaliated by spitting in Griswold's face. As a result of Lyon's actions in that case, he became the first Congressman to have charges filed against him with that body's ethics committee, although he escaped censure through a vote in the House.
- May 22, 1856
Congressman Preston Brooks of South Carolina famously assaulted Charles Sumner of Massachusetts for a previous speech of his, alleging his uncle Andrew Butler was a pimp who took "a mistress who, though ugly to others, is always lovely to him; though polluted in the sight of the world, is chaste in his sight—I mean, the harlot, Slavery." After having consulted with fellow South Carolina Congressman Laurence Keitt on the situation, Brooks and Keitt decided that Sumner had the social status of a "drunkard" and was thus unworthy of the traditional challenge to a fair duel. Brooks (accompanied by Keitt), approached and confronted Sumner as he sat writing at his desk in the almost empty Senate chamber. As Sumner began to stand up, Brooks began beating Sumner severely on the head with a thick gutta-percha cane with a gold head before he could reach his feet. Sumner was knocked down and trapped under the heavy desk (which was bolted to the floor), but Brooks continued to bash Sumner until he ripped the desk from the floor. By this time, Sumner was blinded by his own blood, and he staggered up the aisle and collapsed, lapsing into unconsciousness. Brooks continued to beat the motionless Sumner until he broke his cane, then quietly left the chamber. Several other senators attempted to help Sumner, but were blocked by Keitt, who had jumped into the aisle, brandishing a pistol and shouting, "Let them be!" Keitt was censured for his actions and resigned in protest, but was overwhelmingly re-elected to his seat by his South Carolina constituency within a month. For several decades following, Senators often carried walking canes and even revolvers in the Senate Chamber, fearing a similar assault.
- February 5, 1858,
Congressman Laurence Keitt of South Carolina was involved in another incident of legislative violence less than two years later, starting a massive brawl on the House floor during a tense late-night debate. Keitt became offended when Pennsylvania Congressman (and later Speaker of the House) Galusha A. Grow stepped over to the Democrat side of the House chamber while delivering an anti-slavery speech. Keitt dismissively interrupted Grow's speech to demand he sit down, calling him a "black Republican puppy". Grow indignantly responded by telling Keitt that “No negro-driver shall crack his whip over me.” Keitt became enraged and went for Grow's throat, shouting that he would "choke him for that". A large brawl involving approximately 50 representatives erupted on the House floor, ending only when a missed punch from Rep. Cadwallader Washburn of Wisconsin upended the hairpiece of Rep. William Barksdale of Mississippi. The embarrassed Barksdale accidentally replaced the wig backwards, causing both sides to erupt in spontaneous laughter. Keitt would later die of wounds following the Battle of Cold Harbor while fighting for the Confederacy.
- February 24, 1887
The Indiana General Assembly experienced a massive brawl between Democrats and Republicans in the Indiana Senate and Indiana House of Representatives. The event began as an attempt by Democratic Governor Isaac P. Gray to be elected to the United States Senate and his own party’s attempt to thwart him. Gray was a former Republican who had been elected Governor by popular vote but was scorned as a turncoat by his new party, who maneuvered desperately (and unsuccessfully) to try and prevent his eligibility for the Senate seat. When Gray went over the head of the Democrats in arranging a midterm election for a new Lieutenant Governor, Republican Robert S. Robertson was elected with a majority of the popular vote, a situation the Democrats refused to accept despite a ruling from the Indiana Supreme Court. The matter came to a head when Robertson attempted to enter the Senate chamber to be sworn in and take his seat presiding over the session; he was attacked, beaten, and thrown bodily from the chamber by the Democrats, who then locked the chamber door, beginning four hours of intermittent mass brawling that spread throughout the Indiana Statehouse. The fight ended only after Republicans and Democrats began brandishing pistols and threatening to kill each other and the Governor was forced to deploy the Indianapolis Police Department to restore order. Subsequently, the Republican controlled House of Representatives refused to communicate with the Democratic Senate, ending the legislative session and leading to calls for United States Senators to be elected by popular vote.
- February 20, 1902
During a debate on a bill dealing with the Philippine Islands, Senator Benjamin Tillman of South Carolina accused Senator John L. McLaurin of South Carolina of "treachery" for siding with the Republicans in support of Philippine Annexation, and alleged that McLaurin had been granted control of government patronage in South Carolina. Upon receiving word of this statement, McLaurin entered the Senate Chamber and denounced Tillman, upon which Tillman attacked him. During the fight, other senators were hit by the punches. As a result, the Senate went into closed session to debate the matter. Both senators apologized to the Senate, but almost came to blows immediately thereafter. On February 28, the Senate voted 54 to 12, with 22 abstentions, to Censure both Tillman and McLaurin. McLaurin did not seek reelection, while Tillman served in the Senate until 1918.
In 1988 when Pope John Paul II addressed the European Parliament Ian Paisley, then an MEP, denounced him as the Antichrist and was subjected to booing by fellow MEPs who also threw objects at him; Otto von Habsburg was among those who helped physically eject him from the room.
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- YouTube - Brawl In Uttar Pradesh State assembly , India
- "Indian Government Ousts State Leaders". 1997-10-22. http://pqasb.pqarchiver.com/washingtonpost/access/19707635.html?FMT=ABS.
- "Mexican Congress in brawl before inauguration". CNN. 1 December 2006.
- `국회는 폭력 특권지대`…일부만 형사처벌 2010-12-08 Yonhap News
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- Evan Ramstad, SungHa Park (22 July 2009). "Media Reform Bills Ignite Brawl in South Korean Parliament". The Wall Street Journal. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124825738778771665.html. Retrieved 2009-07-22.
- GNP rams through W309tr budget 2010-12-08
- South Korean parliament descends into mass brawl
- "Taiwan leader denies vote-rigging", BBC News, March 23, 2004
- "Taiwan politicians brawl over procedure", BBC News, May 7, 2004
- "Taiwanese MPs hold a food fight", BBC News, October 26, 2004
- "Taiwan deputy halts vote by chomping China proposal", Reuters, May 30, 2006
- Taiwanese MPs in parliament brawl, BBC News, May 8, 2007
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- "Foreign News: Renovated Bottle". Time Magazine. 6 November, 1950. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,813689,00.html. Retrieved 28 July 2010.
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- Congressional Globe. 35th Cong., 1st sess. 8 Feb. 1858. 603.
- The July 8th, 2006 version of this article uses the translation of the corresponding Chinese-language Wikipedia article.