As it petitions for a referendum on the proposed economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) with China, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has suggested the following referendum question: “Do you agree that the government should put the signing of an ECFA between Taiwan and China to a referendum to be decided by the people of Taiwan?”
Although the text is in the form of a question, it is not asking the public’s opinion. Rather, the party initiating the referendum is proposing a political opinion for which it is seeking public support to turn it into a binding policy. Current legislation does not give Taiwanese the right to decide on an ECFA in a referendum, nor is the government obligated to hold referendums on policies or agreements.
The significance of our text is to force an amendment of the Referendum Act (公投法) to give the public more direct powers and request the safeguarding of Taiwan through democratic mechanisms and the resolution of disputes over cross-strait policy through a referendum system.
Some say the question should be: “Do you agree to the signing of an ECFA or any other cross-strait economic and trade agreement?” They believe this is enough to stop President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) government from signing an ECFA with China, even if the referendum fails to pass the threshold.
This, however, is the same skewed logic that the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) used when the previous DPP-proposed referendums failed to be passed. It does not have a legal basis, and we certainly should not dance along to the KMT’s tune.
No matter how the referendum question is phrased, it is only legally binding if the threshold is passed. If the threshold is not passed, the government would feel justified in signing an ECFA with China. Besides, by accepting the KMT’s logic, wouldn’t that mean that, in previous referendums, Taiwanese voters have rejected US arms procurements, regaining the KMT’s inappropriately obtained assets, and even Taiwan’s UN bid?
Restrained by the flawed Referendum Act, the cruel fact is that this is our only remaining weapon in addition to pursuing the “mass line” and the legislative alternative.
Opinion polls have showed that many people who are in favor of or not sure about an ECFA are willing to have the issue put to a referendum. That we are appealing to democracy should give us the courage to give it a try.
The KMT and Chinese Communist Party (CCP) are not afraid of a public veto of an ECFA because they can sign agreements under many other names. What they are afraid of is that Taiwanese will enjoy referendum rights. A referendum is a symbol of sovereignty, not to mention that such a decision can prevent the two parties from colluding with each other.
Everyone has a different view when interpreting a failed referendum. Hence, we should make every effort to break through the voting threshold to prevent the signing of an ECFA while protecting Taiwan through democracy.
Liu Chien-sin is deputy director of the DPP’s Policy Committee.
TRANSLATED BY EDDY CHANG