Following Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators’ failure to pass their deceptive proposal for a referendum to determine the fate of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in the recent extraordinary legislative session, people from all sectors of society have continued to call for a halt to the plant’s construction.
However, the government blithely ignores these calls and keeps doing whatever it sees fit to further its own ambitions.
To carry on with the construction of the plant in Gongliao District (貢寮), New Taipei City (新北市), President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration has resorted to every tactic possible. Not only has it made up lies about how energy shortages will ensue if nuclear energy is abandoned, but the safety inspections being carried out at the plant are mere theatrical plays staged by state-run Taiwan Power Co (Taipower).
Another form of deception used by the Ma administration is the manipulation of the referendum question, which reads: “Do you agree that the construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant should be halted and that it not become operational?”
The government has phrased the question in the negative so that it can take advantage of the high threshold of participation stipulated by the act for a plebiscite to pass so that it can manipulate the outcome of the vote.
The “straightjacket” Referendum Act (公民投票法) states that if more than half of all eligible voters do not participate in the poll, a referendum will not pass, thereby treating those who do not vote as opposed to the question being posited to the public.
Since abstaining from voting is equal to casting a negative vote, if the plebiscite asks the electorate if it wants to “continue with construction,” those who refrain from casting a ballot by default oppose nuclear power. By the same token, if the question asks whether voters want to “halt construction,” those who do not participate automatically become proponents of nuclear power.
Based on past referendums, more than half of all eligible voters do not vote and as a result no national referendum has ever succeeded, which means that it is next to impossible that the KMT’s referendum on the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant to pass.
Ma’s administration has no plans to amend the act; instead, faced with ever-increasing public opposition to nuclear power, it is exploiting the flawed referendum system by posing a question that asks the opposite of what it actually wants.
Abusing the high participation threshold by asking a question biased toward those who want the opposite of what is being asked — finishing the plant — makes the referendum a deception aimed at cheating those opposed to nuclear power. The government has deliberately crafted its question to shape the result of the vote.
Yet another means of deception employed by the government is evidenced in the 33 KMT legislators who proposed the referendum question, which as mentioned before, runs counter to their policy position.
If these lawmakers were truly serious about halting the project, they would have reached a majority consensus with their counterparts in the Democratic Progressive Party and the Taiwan Solidarity Union and the legislature would have already passed the opposition parties’ counterproposal to suspend construction immediately.
This would have forced the Cabinet to request that the president order the construction budget for the plant be cut, in accordance with Article 71 of the Budget Act (預算法), and that work on the plant be stopped. There would therefore be no reason for the issue of finishing or aborting the nuclear facility to be put to a referendum.