Fri, Jan 07, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Chen's proposal is very pragmatic

On Wednesday, the Executive Yuan approved a bill to revise the Referendum Law (公投法). While the substantive contents of the bill reflect pragmatism, moderation and reconciliation on the part of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government, the pan-blue camp isn't ready to buy it.

There are three main aspects of the bill. It lowers the threshold required for the passage of referendums and initiatives, and removes a provision in the bill which would give voters the right to an initiative with respect to changing the country's name and the national flag.

The new provision also gives voters the right to approve via referendum any legal changes in national boundaries. It would also change the required 50 percent approval of all registered voters and replace it with the approval of a majority of voters who actually voted -- ?as long as it constitutes 25 percent of registered voters.

Despite pan-blue reservations, referendums serve many purposes beyond accomplishing "Taiwan's independence." Groups have social causes that they wish to materialize through referendums. By setting unreachable thresholds, these groups are virtually excluded. This is why despite the reduced thresholds, many social groups feel they have not been lowered sufficiently.

Yesterday, both the Taipei Society ( ) and the Nuke-4 Referendum Initiative Association (核四公投促進會) openly criticized the bill approved by the Executive Yuan as trampling basic human rights and continuing to restrict the democratic rights of the people.

Even to the pan-blue camp, the need for such high thresholds no longer seems critical now that the Executive Yuan no longer seeks to give people the right to change the country's name and the national flag through initiatives.

This of course is a major concession on the part of the Chen government, and risks enraging conservatives and hardliners within the pan-green camp. This may be part of the reason that former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) obtained an understanding behind closed doors with his supporters over the name rectification campaign.

As for the new proposal to approve changes to national boundaries through referendums, many believe this is a move to counter China's anti-secession law.

Presumably, in the event of Chinese military aggression justified by law Taiwan may be able to declare this a change of national boundaries or the exclusion of the Chinese Mainland from the definition of national boundaries. This would not impact the status quo of the Republic of China's (ROC) sovereignty, and technically it would still conform with the US policy of "maintaining the status quo." It also shouldn't violate any basic principles of the pan-blue camp.

On the other hand it would make a Chinese invasion of Taiwan an invasion of foreign soil. The new bill has thus far not been well-received by the pan-blue camp. Not only has Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) openly criticized the bill, some pan-blue policymakers have argued that the Executive Yuan's approval of the bill is a hostile move on the part of the Chen government.

The major gaps in interpreting the Executive Yuan's move suggests that a sense of distrust continues to permeate both the pan-green and pan-blue camps.

Until both sides can learn to believe in the goodwill of the other camp, there's still a long way to go in terms of political reconciliation and cooperation in Taiwan.

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