Fri, May 05, 2017 - Page 8 News List

The Liberty Times Editorial: Unleash the power of referendums

The People Rule Foundation is holding a hunger strike to back its call for amendments to the Referendum Act (公民投票法). As the foundation’s name suggests, its goal in launching this action is to make ordinary Taiwanese the nation’s masters.

The fast is being held in front of Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) headquarters in Taipei in the hope that party, which has a legislative majority, will ensure that the legislature passes amendments to the act before the first anniversary of President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) inauguration on May 20.

The amendments should remove all the unreasonable restrictions that the Referendum Act imposes on referendums and implement direct democracy.

The Referendum Act was passed in 2003. Because of the many limits it imposes on direct democracy, it has become known as the “birdcage Referendum Act.” The act greatly limits the right of legislative initiative that the Republic of China Constitution bestows upon citizens, and it curtails citizens’ political right of referendum.

As well as restricting basic constitutional rights, it imposes many thresholds and technical barriers to the exercise of direct people power. It restricts the scope of issues that can be put to a referendum by forbidding or excluding certain items. It also sets strict regulations regarding the number of people required to initiate and endorse a referendum proposal and sets excessively high standards for a referendum to be passed.

As if these hurdles were not enough, the politically appointed Referendum Review Committee does all it can to obstruct referendum signature campaigns.

More than a decade since the passing of the Referendum Act, Taiwanese are blocked from deciding on constitutional changes through referendums, and even when there are calls for ordinary public policy issues to be put to a popular vote, somebody always finds a way to stop it.

Taiwanese have a constitutional right to decide on important public issues by voting on them directly, but this right is like a bird in a little cage where it is not free to sing the tune of public sentiment. Under such conditions, the public can hardly be the masters of the nation.

Animosity to referendums is a legacy of the alien political power that came to Taiwan following World War II and instituted rule of a minority over the majority. What this minority regime feared most was that Taiwanese would become masters of their own nation, so its foremost consideration at all times was to protect the interests of the ruling clique and keep it in power.

Any choice by the majority of the public was therefore doomed to be suppressed, no matter whether it came from the awakening majority or through the cooperative efforts of different communities.

The same minority attitude was also expressed by resistance for many years to making all seats in the Legislative Yuan and the now-defunct National Assembly subject to election, and by strenuous opposition to direct presidential elections. The regime’s rationale for this resistance was its claim to still be the legitimate government of the whole of China.

Only when this claim became untenable was the regime’s resistance to elections washed away by a democratic tide of overwhelming popular opinion. Given this background, releasing referendums from the birdcage of unreasonable restrictions is one step on the road to transitional justice, and it is an important and urgent political task for Taiwan’s democracy.

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