Sun, Nov 30, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Referendum Law no blue triumph

Taiwan finally has a referendum law, although some would say, and rightfully so, that the law, as enacted, barely gave any power to the voters. Still, if the passage of a referendum law by itself is a good thing, the biggest issue on everyone's mind is how it will affect the presidential election.

It wasn't surprising that the version of the bill that passed was the one endorsed by the pan-blue camp. After all, the blue camp enjoys an absolute legislative majority. Judging from the way that the pan-blue camp is talking about this law as a major pan-blue victory, they seem to think, or at least are trying to convince others, that passing the law will help elect KMT Chairman Lien Chan (連戰) to the presidency.

That is also obviously the way that the pan-blue media are trying to shape public perception, as indicated by the immediate release of an opinion poll by one pan-blue newspaper after the passage of the Referendum Law (公民投票法), showing Lien and his vice presidential running mate, PFP Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜), widening their lead over President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) in popular support. The credibility of an opinion poll cooked up overnight is not worth commenting on.

It is still too early to tell how the passage of the Referendum Law will affect the presidential election. If the law is to help Lien's campaign in any way, the pan-blues have to be able to take credit for it. But it won't be easy for the pan-blue camp to convince the voters that it deserves that credit.

For one thing, it is hard to erase the impression that the pan-blues went from opposing to supporting referendum rights for only one reason -- a belated realization that the public supports referendum rights, and that to win the presidential election, the pan-blues must support that right as well. Under the circumstances, people have a hard time believing that the pan-blue camp's support for referendum rights is heartfelt. If people continue to perceive this support is merely a tactic used to win the election, then they won't feel that Lien deserves any credit.

Reinforcing public suspicion of the pan-blue position is the fact that the pan-blue camp has yet to offer an ideological explanation of why it supports referendum rights.

The DPP finds itself in quite a different situation. While the version of the bill endorsed by the DPP and the Executive Yuan was not enacted, very few people can deny the DPP's enormous contributions to the law's passage. The DPP had been pushing for the recognition of referendum rights for more than a decade, long before the public embraced the right. In those days, any talk of referendums was labeled as blasphemy uttered by the forces of "radical Taiwanese independence."

In the four years of Chen's presidency, the referendum right has become a mainstream value in Taiwan, despite the fact that Chen's party suffers minority status in the legislature.

Passage of the law would not have happened so soon had the DPP not come to power and gained the ability to shape mainstream political values.

In contrast to the DPP, which shed blood and tears over the past decade to promote referendum rights in Taiwan, things were easy and effortless for the pan-blues. With its legislative majority, the pan-blue camp only had to worry about whether or not to pass a referendum law.

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