Thu, Oct 18, 2007 - Page 8 News List

`Birdcage' referendum act should be removed

By Allen Houng 洪裕宏

Four referendums will be held concurrently with the Jan. 12 legislative elections and the March 22 presidential election.

The referendum on the disposition of stolen party assets and the anti-corruption referendum are scheduled to be held in January.

In March, the referendums on both the Democratic Progressive Party's (DPP) and the Chinese Nationalist Party's (KMT) UN proposals are scheduled to be held.

The pan-blue camp strongly opposed the passage of the Referendum Act (公投法), unwilling to endow the public with such rights. Due to public pressure, it reluctantly passed an amended, so-called "birdcage," Referendum Act in 2003.

Today, four years later, the pan-blue camp has proposed two referendums. Although the imperfect law strictly limits the public's rights to initiate referendums, such polls have been accepted and are becoming a standard component of Taiwan's democracy. This is a major progress in the development of the nation's democratic politics.

Still, the threshold for proposing, holding, or passing a referendum is too high, which makes it difficult for the public to use a referendum to pass a piece of legislation or amend the Constitution. More than 80,000 signatures are required to propose a referendum, 870,000 are required to hold it and over half the electorate must vote, with half of those voting supporting the referendum for it to be passed.

For example, the DPP's UN referendum will only be passed if 8 million voters participate in the referendum, with half of them supporting the referendum.

The high threshold stipulated in the Referendum Act is a violation of democratic principles as well as the Constitution, which states in Article 2: "The sovereignty of the Republic of China shall reside in the whole body of citizens."

Thus, the power of the government, legislature and parties is entrusted to these institutions by the people of Taiwan. Ridiculously, the parties and legislature are trying to restrict the public's rights. The legislature is a representative mechanism, and legislators are performing their duties on behalf of voters. The public should be able to regulate the government, the legislature and political parties through the Constitution. So why do we have the opposite situation?

For example, if the legislature is lazy or paralyzed by political struggles, people should be able to bypass it and pass legislation directly through a referendum. The reason is quite simple: legislators are entrusted by the people to do their job. If they are incapable of doing a good job, the public should certainly be able to take the legislative power back.

If we ask lawmakers to amend the Constitution or even create a new one, and they refuse to do so or do it unsatisfactorily, we should be able to do it ourselves through a referendum. If the legislature's poor performance remains unchanged, we should be able to abolish it through direct popular power. All legislation, amendments and government budgets could be decided by referendums. With today's technology, installing a computerized voting system in each household is cheaper than having lawmakers who abuse their power.

The pan-blue camp should not treat this as a joke. The concept of a constitutional democracy is deeply rooted in the heart of the Taiwanese.

If KMT presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) wants to win office, he should not talk about democracy while quietly working against the Referendum Act and depriving the public of our most basic right to political participation. In a word, Ma will lose the election if the "bird cage" is not removed.

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