Wed, Feb 11, 2004 - Page 8 News List


To make a solemn statement

A thing that is often reported in the news and that I can see on the Internet -- as in Arthur Shih's letter (Letter, Feb. 5, page 8) -- is that the referendum is illegal.

I am not a lawyer, but I like to study the way laws are made, and I have a question. What does it mean for the referendum to be illegal? Is it that: 1) it is forbidden to formally ask the opinion of the citizens in a referendum, or 2) the text that the citizens are to vote on cannot be given the force of the law should the citizens give it a "Yes" vote?

I cannot believe that anyone in any democracy-loving country would agree with the first point. Those who fear a question being asked of the people are definitely not democrats.

The second point is more debatable.

Let's suppose that the referendum is not allowed by law. This means that, even if approved by the people, the text of the referendum cannot be used as a law.

The text of the referendum that I have read is just a question about the policy that the government should implement. The force of Taiwan's referendum is not its legality -- it is its solemnity. Whoever wins the presidential election won't be able to ignore the voice of the citizens.

In France, municipalities often organize "illegal" referendums. In such cases, the text that the citizens vote on does not have the force of the law. It can even be declared illegal by the central government, but it gives a signal to the policymakers that something is happening in the city that they cannot ignore.

Such referendums are called rendum consultatif or consultation populaire. An example is the Chamonix referendum in which the people of Chamonix expressed their strong displeasure with seeing international transport trucks polluting the Mont Blanc valley on their way to Italy.

This brings me to comment on a statement by US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage: "As I understand it, referenda are generally reserved for items or issues which are either very divisive or very difficult, and the wording I have seen of the referendum seems to be neither divisive or difficult," he said.

Yes, that is generally the case.

But solemnity is also very important. The last referendum passed in France was to shorten the president's term from seven years to five years. There was little debate about the text; everybody agreed; it was neither difficult nor divisive. It could easily have been approved by the senate and the parliament. But French President Jacques Chirac decided to use the referendum to make each French citizen solemnly involved in the decision-making process. Seventy-one percent of the people voted "Yes."

Emmanuel Castro

Montingy le Bretonneux, France

No such thing as unification

I have read Paul Lin's excellent articles published in the Taipei Times. Lin's points of view are well-taken and certainly I agree with Lin on most of them. However, I have found that Lin uses the wrong word sometimes -- "unification."

Correctly, Lin should use "annexation," not "unification."

Historically, Taiwan has never been part of China, so how can Taiwan be unified with China? "Unification" is the word used by Chinese officials in their propaganda war in order to annex Taiwan. Taiwanese and the people of the rest of the world believe that this is annexation. I suggest that Lin use "annexation" in his future articles.

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