Sat, Feb 03, 2001 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: It's time for a referendum

The Fourth Nuclear Power Plant (核四) dispute -- which has paralyzed the country for almost half a year -- saw hopes of a solution dawning yesterday with the meetings between the heads of the Legislative and Executive Yuans. However, given that the new government has accomplished little over the past six months, a solution to the plant dispute will be little more than a return to where we were six months ago. Exactly what benefits have we gained from six months of partisan squabbles?

Premier Chang Chun-hsiung (張俊雄) made two proposals yesterday: an energy law to resolve the power plant row and a mechanism to resolve policy disputes through a public referendum. Later, Legislative Yuan speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) demanded that the Cabinet resume construction of the plant immediately and take it upon itself to propose an energy law. However, he did not comment on the plebiscite issue.

At least the executive and legislative branches have agreed on the urgency of the plant dispute and the need to build a non-nuclear country. The nuclear plant issue has cost Taiwan dearly -- one premier, around 3,000 points on the TAIEX -- the list goes on. Anything that brings the paralysis in government to an end should be welcome.

Wang's request -- that the energy law be drafted by the Executive Yuan -- is reasonable because the Cabinet has the best sources of information on energy and industrial development. But the ruling party will have difficulty answering its anti-nuclear supporters if it immediately resumes construction of the plant.

The Cabinet could draw up the energy law and send it to the Legislative Yuan before the upcoming legislative session. Once the legislature passes the law, the Cabinet can resume construction of the plant on the excuse that it was legally bound to do so. This should satisfy the interests of both sides and the spirit of the rule of law. But whether the contractors for the power plant can wait for a law to be passed is another matter.

The nuclear plant dispute has revealed Taiwan's Achilles' heel: a crippled dispute-resolution mechanism. Both the Cabinet and the Legislature have been unable to end the row. A murky ruling from the Council of Grand Justices only moved the dispute to a new battleground. Presidential intervention will only cause a backlash and once again make Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) the target of a recall drive, given that he cannot pretend to be above the fray.

This newspaper has many times suggested referendums as a final arbitration on public policy. The KMT government resisted such a direct exercise of public opinion, fearing that it might cost the party-government its policy-making power or lead to a referendum on independence.

As an opposition party, the DPP advocated a plebiscite on the nuclear plant issue. But since coming to power, the DPP government has been reluctant to adopt its own policy, fearful of the outcome of such a move. Now, after a long and painful dispute, the Cabinet has finally realized that a referendum will be the most democratic solution and far better than prolonged uncertainty.

But can Taiwan learn a lesson from this fratricidal bloodletting? The country needs to establish a mechanism for interaction between the executive and legislative branches. It also needs to establish principles to ensure the rule of law in politics -- and a complete set of dispute-resolution systems that can fill the gaps in the representative government system. Only then will Taiwan have gained something positive from the pain caused by the nuclear plant row.

This story has been viewed 3770 times.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top