Fri, Sep 07, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Four likely scenarios for the UN referendums

By Lin Cheng-yi 林正義

Before the Beijing Olympics begin, Chinese authorities will have to think hard about how to react to the referendums proposed by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) on UN membership for Taiwan.

It is far from certain, though, that the referendums Beijing is worrying about will pass.

When it comes to the referendums, there are four possible outcomes.

These are, in order of likelihood: neither referendum passes; only the referendum proposed by the KMT passes; both referendums pass; only the one proposed by the DPP passes.

Although more than 70 percent of Taiwanese are in favor of applying for UN membership under the name "Taiwan" -- meaning that Taiwan would apply as a new member -- the referendum the DPP proposes is the least likely to pass. In 2004, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) used Article 17 of the Referendum Law (公投法) to carry out a "defensive referendum."

But because the KMT and the People First Party boycotted the referendum, less than half of the 16.5 million eligible voters cast their vote, thus invalidating the result. The failure of the referendum on whether Taiwan should acquire more anti-missile weapons failed provided a convenient excuse for the KMT to obstruct the purchase of more Patriot anti-missile batteries in the past three years.

In June, the KMT's central standing committee passed the party's proposal on a referendum to return to the UN, meaning that the party wants to compete with the DPP and that it seeks to prevent its own voters from supporting a DPP referendum.

Let us assume that in the referendums next year, 17.5 million eligible voters will cast their votes. In the past few elections, turnout was approximately 80 percent, which for this election would mean approximately 14 million voters.

If these are divided equally between the DPP and the KMT, each party would receive approximately 7 million votes. If the two parties ask their supporters to only cast a vote in their own referendum, then neither referendum will be able to reach the threshold of 8,250,000 votes.

The most likely outcome, therefore, is that neither will pass. A referendum will only be successful if it is backed by a political party that really cares about the nation's international relations and thus calls upon its supporters to vote in both referendums.

The KMT obviously has no intention of doing so, otherwise it would not have proposed its own referendum in the first place. Whether the DPP is broad-minded enough to do this remains to be seen.

The only thing both the ruling and opposition parties care about is being in power. Regardless of whether either referendum passes, few people will really care about their impact once the presidential election is over.

If the DPP's referendum on joining the UN fails and the KMT's referendum passes, it will at least show that Taiwanese are not satisfied with their country's diplomatic isolation.

It would be a sad affair if the DPP -- the party that has for a long time pushed for joining the UN despite pressure and threats from the US and China -- would now be beaten by a party that calculated it could get more votes by following the DPP's example.

But it would still be less humiliating and have less impact than if both referendums were to fail.

Hence, the DPP should encourage its supporters to cast their vote in both referendums and not only in the one proposed by the DPP.

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