Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Secretary-General Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) and a number of members of the pan-blue camp have expressed their opposition to combining a referendum on joining the UN and the presidential elections in March.
They claim that combining the two would damage public confidence in the presidential election. They also argue that if the presidential election and the referendum are conducted at the same time, there is a risk that polling station workers might hand out the wrong ballots or that voters might cast the wrong ballot or vote on the wrong ballot, giving rise to disputes over the outcome of the polls.
We can't help but ask -- what is the KMT afraid of?
From a legal point of view, combining the presidential election and the referendum is a good idea. Based on the voter threshold stipulated by the Referendum Act (公民投票法), it would take more than 8 million valid votes for the proposal to pass. The rules on the percentage of votes required for approval are strict, and the threshold is even higher than in most countries.
Holding a referendum independently would entail the mobilization of a large number of resources. It therefore makes more sense to hold the referendum together with national elections, such as the presidential poll, to save on material and personnel costs.
Combining the presidential election and the referendum is also more practical. The pan-blue camp's concerns about voters receiving the wrong ballots or casting the wrong ballots are superficial to say the least. Does the KMT think that voters and polling station workers are stupid?
Holding simultaneous elections and distributing more than one ballot on election day is nothing new.
The first legislative elections in 1989 after the lifting of martial law was held in conjunction with the mayoral, county commissioner and provincial councilor elections, with voters receiving both ballots at the same time.
This was followed in 1994 by twin elections for Taipei and Kaohsiung mayors and city councilors, and in 1998 by the legislative elections, together with the Taipei and Kaohsiung mayoral and city councilor elections.
Since 2001, there have been five instances in which two or even three elections were combined. In all cases, separate ballots were issued, and no one ever said this influenced the neutrality of the vote or stopped voters from voting as they wanted.
The situation was different in 2004, when the defense referendum was held together with the presidential election. Voters were supposed to cast their vote for the presidential election and then pick up the ballot for the referendum.
However, there were charges that some polling station workers deliberately misled voters by telling them that they could leave after they had cast their ballot for the presidential election. As such, some voters lost their opportunity to vote in the referendum.
Moreover, as the ballots were handed out separately, whether a voter picked up the ballot for the referendum revealed their attitude toward the referendum, thus violating the principle of confidentiality.
Globally, holding more than one vote on more than one issue at the same time is common.
An example is the referendum in Switzerland on May 18, 2003, when the Swiss voted on nine issues. There were two votes about a law on government reforms, and seven questions brought forward on the initiative of the public. Given the number of issues involved, the Swiss dubbed that day "Super Sunday."
Combining referendums with a presidential election is normal in democratic countries.
In 2000, 204 referendums were held in 42 states in the US in combination with the presidential election that year.
In 2004, 162 referendums in 34 states were combined with the presidential election. Neither case gave rise to claims that this might incite election disputes.
In short, multiple elections, multiple referendums on different issues or even multiple referendums combined with national elections are all very common around the world.
Organizing elections this way not only saves money, but is also a good way to gauge public opinion. As such, it is difficult to understand why the KMT is afraid of combining the UN referendum with the presidential election.
Is it because the party hopes that the referendum will fail to meet the required threshold and be declared invalid? Or is it because it doesn't want the nation to apply for UN membership or hold a referendum on its stolen assets in conjunction with the legislative elctions in January?
But perhaps the only reasonable explanation is that the KMT is afraid of Taiwanese exerting their power.
Chou Yung-hong is the director of the Democratic Progressive Party's Department of Youth Development.
Translated by Anna Stiggelbout
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