Sun, Aug 24, 2014 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Executive stifling right to referendum

Not surprisingly, the Executive Yuan’s Referendum Review Committee on Friday rejected the referendum proposal initiated by the Taiwan Environmental Protection Union on the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in New Taipei City’s Gongliao District (貢寮).

Explaining the reasons for its rejection, the committee said that the proposed referendum question — which asks voters if they agree to installing fuel rods in the plant’s reactors to test their operation — and the statement of reasons for holding the referendum on halting the plant’s construction, are “contradictory and may confuse voters, preventing them from fully understanding the question posed.”

All 13 members of the 21-seat committee who attended the meeting, excluding the chairman, voted against the proposal, citing subsection four of section one in Article 14 of the Referendum Act (公民投票法), which states that the committee should reject a plebiscite proposal “where there is any contradiction or obvious error in the content of the proposal, thus making the intention of the proposal not understandable.”

This justification constitutes an exploitation of the act because the committee has misinterpreted the subsection of Article 14.

The subsection is aimed at ensuring that referendum questions are worded in a way that voters can understand so that they know what they are voting on.

Also, a proposal’s statement of reasons presents the initiators’ rationale for wishing to put an issue to a public vote. Any argument made in the statement is meant to assert the necessity of the referendum and should not be used by the committee as a reason to reject the initiative. After all, it is the main text of the proposal, not the statement of reasons, that the public votes on.

More than 120,000 people have backed the proposal with their signatures, support that enabled the proposal to reach the committee. The rejection of the proposal by 13 committee members is not just an abuse of power, but also an infringement on the public’s political rights as protected by the Constitution.

The union’s proposal is the latest casualty in a long list of referendum proposals killed by the committee in recent years, including one initiated by the Democratic Progressive Party in 2009 on the cross-strait Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) and another one on the same issue proposed by the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) in 2010.

Last year, a petition submitted by former vice president Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) asking for a local referendum in New Taipei City to determine the fate of the power plant was also turned down.

The 2009 proposal was rejected for having a question that “was not clear enough,” among other reasons, while the 2010 proposal was turned down for the same reasons as those cited to reject the environmental group’s petition.

Two months after its first attempt failed, the TSU submitted a revised version of its proposal, addressing the contradictions the committee saw between the original version’s main text and statement of reasons. However, the committee still dismissed the necessity of holding a referendum on the grounds that the question it asked regarding the procedural issues of the ECFA’s signing did not constitute a change in policy.

Lu’s initiative was rejected because the committee said that the nuclear plant’s fate is an issue “of national scale” and therefore a local-level referendum has no validity, which prompted the environmental group to launch a signature drive backing a national referendum proposal using the same main text and statement of reasons as the one Lu proposed.

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