Sun, Jul 15, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Rejection of referendum a violation of our laws

By Lin Chia-lung 林佳龍

The rejection by the Executive Yuan's Referendum Review Committee of the Democratic Progressive Party's (DPP) proposal to hold a national referendum on whether to apply to join the UN under the name "Taiwan" was illegal and a violation of the public's rights.

Article 34 of the Referendum Law (公投法) stipulates that the committee has the power to examine whether the topic of a proposed referendum is a national issues and whether it is identical to a previous proposal. Exceeding the scope of these duties is illegal.

In other words, the committee can only deliberate on the superficial aspects of the proposal. But the rationale the committee gave for its decision concerned the referendum's substance, which is a clear transgression of its authority.

One of the committee's reasons for rejecting the proposal was: "UN states become members under their official national title. This proposal therefore implies changing the national title and is a topic for a constitutional amendment, which must be proposed following other procedures. This proposal does not appear in Article 2, Section 2 of the Referendum Law, which lists the topics suitable for a national referendum."

However, it is not unheard of for countries to join international organizations, including the UN, under unofficial names. Several of the UN's member states are registered under names other than their official titles. Switzerland and Macedonia are two examples.

In other words, a UN bid would not require changing the national title.

Another reason the committee gave for its rejection was: "The executive has already applied to the World Health Organization under the name `Taiwan.'"

First of all, the committee should be informed that the UN and the WHO are not one and the same.

Secondly, the current policy of applying to join the UN under the name "Taiwan" is the strategic political decision of the sitting president.

Successive presidents may or may not continue this campaign. The referendum could result in making a push for UN membership the duty of the head of state.

The third rationale the committee provided was that a referendum concerning "`major policy' ... cannot violate the Constitution or laws."

Our laws and our Constitution are all based on the principle of democracy and were established in order to guarantee citizens the direct exercise of civil rights.

Pre-emptively deciding on the topic denies the public those rights and violates the spirit of the Referendum Law.

Perhaps most importantly, the committee is not empowered to interpret whether or not a referendum violates the Constitution or laws.

Finally, the committee argued that the main body of the proposal and its justifications were at odds with each other, and cited the law, which says that the "overseeing organization" should reject a proposed referendum if "the content of the proposal is contradictory or obviously flawed to such an extent that the true intent of the proposal cannot be understood."

Once again, this is not an issue for the committee to consider. The law clearly states that the Central Election Commission is the "overseeing organization," not the committee.

Moreover, the commission has already certified that the proposal conformed to Article 1, Section 1 of the Referendum Law.

Lin Chia-lung is secretary-general of the Democratic Progressive Party.

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