The KMT has already promised that the fate of the plant lies in a public referendum, and the party’s legislative caucus has already completed the draft text of the referendum proposal. Perhaps the demonstrators were correct in their suspicions of the KMT’s motivation behind the referendum, that is, to palm off responsibility for the plant on the public as a whole.
Perhaps the announcement was the result of bad faith on the part of the party policymakers, who know full well that the threshold is unlikely to be reached. Regardless, since the government is willing to listen to public opinion, and given that some 70 percent of the public support the anti-nuclear cause, to hold a mass demonstration at this juncture, and call on the government to do what it demands, somewhat weakens the legitimacy of the demonstration.
If they really want to achieve their objective, the correct way for civic groups seeking to scrap nuclear power would be to wait until the Referendum Review Committee (RRC) has passed the referendum question and then galvanize all of their collective support to campaign for a “yes” or “no” vote, depending on how the question is posed.
In other democratic countries, when people are asked to vote in a referendum, they wait until the question has been decided before the two sides officially lock horns. In Taiwan, the question has not even been confirmed yet, and people have taken to the streets expressing doubts over the referendum or complaining that the government has gone ahead without consulting anyone.
This is not how things are done in democratic societies. Worse still, when the demonstration started, members of the opposition came out in force, despite the efforts of the organizers to avoid this kind of politicization of the rally.
Unfortunately, in Taiwan, where you are either affiliated with the pan-blue or pan-green camps, it is no small feat to try to rein in politicians looking for exposure. Consequently, those who joined the demonstration purely because they oppose nuclear power in Taiwan began to suspect that they had been used: This is unfortunate for the organizers, as they were left with egg on their faces.
When the government is resolved to holding a referendum, the most important thing for the public to do is to put the issue to serious debate and engage in dialogue.
It is not often that we are in such a commanding position as this, to be able to get to the bottom of an issue and truly understand what it is about. As far as providing free publicity to stars and politicians, perhaps we should save this for campaign rallies in the run-up to elections.
Yang Tai-shuenn is professor and chairperson of the Department of Political Science at Chinese Culture University.
Translated by Paul Cooper