Taiwan's newest party wants to make mahjong great again

Mahjong players moving their tiles during a round of the game at a parlour in Kaohsiung. AFP/Sam Yeh

TAIPEI - As Taiwan hurtles towards becoming a "super-aged" society, a new political party has emerged with an unusual and somewhat singular platform -- making mahjong great again.

The centuries-old Chinese tile game is popular in Taiwan, especially among the elderly, but thanks to a quirk of legal history from the island's martial law era, it inhabits something of a grey space.

While playing mahjong is legal, the game is treated with suspicion by authorities as gambling in public places is prohibited.

Organised crime groups have long maintained a lucrative side hustle by hosting illegal betting matches, while gaming parlours, both legitimate businesses and more shady ones, often find themselves raided or inspected by police.

Step forward Kuo Hsi, the 65-year-old owner of a parlour in the southern city of Kaohsiung who has decided it is high time to allow betting on mahjong games and has launched a new political party to achieve that goal.

The niche Mahjong the Greatest party wants the game declared a "legitimate recreation" and for gambling and prize money to be allowed.

"Let's be frank. You can put a bet on anything if you want to gamble. Even rock, paper, scissors. Why do we insist on branding mahjong as a form of gambling?" he told AFP from his parlour, the unmistakable clatter of mahjong tiles creating a hypnotic soundtrack. 

"Any form of competition, gaming, golf, tennis, badminton, they all have some form of prize in the end. They all do. When there are prizes, competitors will do their best to train themselves physically and mentally. Mahjong playing is exactly the same," he added.

The current membership of the Mahjong the Greatest party -- which was founded last month -- is 120 people, but he is "optimistic" that he can get 10,000 registered party members by the end of this year.

Kuo has applied to authorities to register the party and is hopeful that it will be approved soon.

He aims to get enough political momentum going to secure a referendum next year to amend the law. 


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