President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) recently said that halting the construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in New Taipei City (新北市) was unconstitutional and rejected a legal move initiated by the Cabinet to stop the project. In doing so, Ma twisted the spirit of the Council of Grand Justices’ Constitutional Interpretation No. 520 — an interpretation issued in 2001 in connection with the construction of the power plant — which deals with the relationship between the Cabinet and the Legislative Yuan, and the right of the legislature to participate in decisionmaking regarding critical national issues.
Given that opinion polls conducted by various media outlets have all shown that more than 70 percent of respondents support halting the plant’s construction, the Ma administration’s insistence on using a flawed referendum as the only way to solve the dispute sets the stage for a lot of political strife. With the Cabinet having turned into Public Enemy No. 1, I plan to propose a resolution in the legislature on halting construction and get legislators from both the ruling and opposition parties to sign a petition on the issue, so that the legislature can take responsibility for the matter and for its solution.
This problem started because the Cabinet insisted on continuing construction, while refusing to take political responsibility for the consequences. Since the Cabinet was not willing to stand up to scrutiny on the issue, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators proposed holding a referendum to decide the plant’s fate. However, this runs counter to the Referendum Act (公民投票法), which gives the legislature, not just one party, the power to initiate referendums on major policies. It is also clearly an attempt by the KMT to avoid responsibility for policymaking.
Contrary to what Ma says, a referendum is not the only way to decide whether construction of the plant should be halted. Not only can the Cabinet propose stopping construction after securing an agreement by a legislative majority, the legislature can also decide to halt construction via a resolution since the issue is an important national affair as stipulated in Article 63 of the Constitution.
Alternatively, construction can be halted by doing something similar to what KMT Legislator Ting Shou-chung (丁守中) suggested: Establish a special bipartisan committee for nuclear safety, have it release opinion poll results about the plant and then put the issue to a vote in the legislature.
Moreover, since the legislature decided on Feb. 26 that no additional budget would be allocated to the plant before the referendum is held, the legislature can simply exercise its power and stop further budget allocations. Construction at the plant would be halted as a matter of course.
The way the Ma government has ignored these alternatives and insisted on deciding things through a flawed referendum is an attempt to leverage the result of the illegitimate poll to take away the public’s say on the plant’s safety and its budget. The tricks Ma is using are very obvious.
Halting construction of the power plant is a national consensus. However, the Cabinet first tried to shirk its responsibility and then turned around and pretended to be democratic by proposing that the issue be put to a vote. With the president and the Cabinet both trying to shirk their duties, getting the legislature to initiate a motion to decide the issue by resolution would give the Cabinet a chance to halt construction without losing face. It would also allow a legislative majority to fulfill public expectations and halt construction of the plant. Such an approach would also stop the Ma administration from forcing the legislature into proposing a referendum while shirking all responsibilities.