Thu, Oct 25, 2012 - Page 8 News List

Nuclear future referendum needed

By Chang Kuo-tsai 張國財

All these problems bring to mind the old adage that bad policies are even worse than corruption.

Returning to Japan, recognized as it is for its advanced management practices and a strong sense of responsibility, the indecision and helplessness of Japanese nuclear energy experts in the face of the Fukushima nuclear accident revealed that there were few issues for which they could really take responsibility.

As for compensation for ruined lives and damaged property, it would be a mere “pie in the sky” idea if left to the power company to arrange. In the end, the huge cost of disaster relief operations could only be shouldered by the state, in other words by the public as a whole. This makes it all the more worrying to think about how Taiwan will eventually pay for the shambles that the Longmen power station project has become.

In the realm of politics, the modern age is no longer one of rulers who are supposed to teach their subjects and make up their minds for them. In our day, the public should be able to participate in policy decisions and share responsibility for the outcome. In the sphere of science and technology, this is an age in which people no longer have unquestioning faith in experts, and one in which people doubt and question authority.

Given the controversy that exists over the construction of the Longmen Nuclear Power Plant, the proper way to resolve the issue would be to put it to a referendum.

Should Taipower go on building the plant and make it operational, or should it be scrapped entirely? The public could decide and bear collective responsibility for the outcome. That is real democracy in action. That is real popular sovereignty.

A referendum is a collective exercise and expression of the will of a country’s citizens. It is nothing to be afraid of.

In January last year, the people of South Sudan voted for independence in a referendum, and on Feb. 26 this year Syria held a referendum on a new constitution. The democratic structures of these countries may not be as well founded as those of Taiwan, but in some ways they are ahead of Taiwan.

A referendum on the Longmen plant would be less fundamental for Taiwan than those held in South Sudan and Syria, so why has Taiwan never gone beyond just talking about it?

In Taiwan’s presidential elections there is no requirement that more than half of all people entitled to vote cast a ballot, nor that the winner must receive more than half the valid votes. So why, according to the existing Referendum Act (公民投票法), must a referendum proposal meet such strict requirements to be approved, even after getting over a number of hurdles such as examination by the Referendum Review Commission?

A national leader who respects the public and sees voters as the true masters of the nation has no good reason to prevent the public from freely exercising their right to hold a referendum, still less to impose all kinds of fetters on the rules of the referendum game.

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