The pan-blue camp, which has opposed all efforts to pass a law authorizing referendums, recently made an abrupt U-turn and vowed to pass such a law. It also demanded that the DPP clarify whether such a law should allow for a referendum on the unification-independence issue. Caught flat-footed, the DPP appears to have turned conservative and made a U-turn of its own, saying such an issue should not be put to a referendum, thereby falling into the unification camp's trap.
We do not intend to study the motive behind the pan-blue camp's change of heart. Its show of support for a referendum law should be applauded, no matter what its intentions. What is important is the direction of history and the development of democracy. All the fuss about what kind of questions could be asked is simply an attempt to delay passage of a referendum law.
The three years of the DPP's minority government has made clear the practical need for referendums. China's political bullying of Taiwan and its deceptive ploys with "one country, two systems" in Hong Kong are prime examples of why referendums are necessary. For three years, President Chen Shui-bian's (
Once a referendum bill passes, the government will be able to bypass the Legislative Yuan once a bill it believes to have strong public support is blocked on the legislative floor. The matter can be put directly to a referendum and public support can be sought directly. This will counter partisan wrangling. Such a design will benefit all parties because any one of them could one day be voted into power. Political leaders with any foresight should be able to see this.
In terms of what the law should entail, direct expression of the public will is the spirit of referendums. The country's status is the main anxiety of the people of Taiwan. If they cannot express their will directly and democratically regarding their status -- if they are only allowed to express their opinion on trivial matters -- then referendums will count for little.
There are many ways for nations to pursue independence. The Americans gained independence from Britain through war. Mongolia expressed its wish for independence via a referendum and then proceeded to declare independence. Taiwan does not have to emulate Mongolia, nor does it have to decide on the unification-independence issue through a referendum. However, the people should have the right to hold referendums, including one on independence. Whether or not such a question will ever be put to a referendum depends on the status of cross-strait
If any reminder were needed about how frustrated people become when they feel they lack a voice in government, the massive turnout in Hong Kong on Tuesday came just in time. Tuesday was the sixth anniversary of Hong Kong's handover to Chinese rule -- and the people of the territory marked it with a gigantic demonstration against the anti-subversion legislation that their government plans to enact. Unfortunately for the people of Hong Kong, it is unlikely their leaders will alter their plans.