Concluding the Nov. 24 referendums peacefully should be considered an advancement of Taiwanese democracy, but the questions were full of long-winded wording that arguably could have confused and misled many voters.
The results do not necessarily represent the public’s opinion, because many voters might not have fully understood what they were voting for, and quite a few were unaware of the risk of casting ballots for a proposal they do not identify with.
Take for example the topic of using nuclear power to promote “green” energy. Many people simply took it as “to cultivate renewable energy,” which is a good way to enable the country to go “green.” Some voters might have thought it was a good idea to transform “bad” nuclear energy into a good energy source.
The government failed to fully explain the issue or the referendum’s likely effect. Its failure to contextualize the topic resulted in the public misunderstanding the issue, which has in turn regrettably damaged the credibility of holding referendums.
Also, the topic of referendum No. 9 — “Do you agree that the government should, in connection to the March 11 Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear disaster, continue to enforce the food imports ban on 31 regions in Japan, including agricultural and food products from Fukushima and the surrounding four prefectures and municipalities (Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma and Chiba)?” — should have been left up to the experts.
Asking common people, who are unlikely to have professional knowledge about the issue, to vote on it is problematic.
Taiwan and China are the only two nations that have maintained a ban on food imported from these areas. Could it be that the nation’s regulations on food import control and management are far more rigid than the world standard? Furthermore, who would oppose a referendum proposal that is constantly described as “anti-nuclear-contaminated foods?”
Using long-winded phrases, such as: “Do you agree that the government should maintain the ban on...” is too difficult for some older people to decipher. My mother, for one, voted “yes,” but could not stop feeling remorse after later learning that her vote went against her true will.
Too many political calculations are deployed in referendums with too little explanation from the government, which should have sent out officials to clarify the issues.
By failing to do this, the government allowed groups that are good at scheming to have their way and exploit the trusting nature of the Taiwanese.
Referendums of this kind could hardly be considered representative of public opinion.
The government should rely on the knowledge of experts instead of using referendums as an excuse to implement policies.
If the government really wants its policymaking to reflect the views of the public and be supported by them, it should have at least taken a neutral stance and hired experts to spend time explaining the pros and cons of both sides prior to holding referendums.
Only after fully understanding the proposals can voters make their own judgements and cast ballots in ways that truly reflect their positions.
The government should also work on eliminating imprecision and misleading traps in question wordings, while facing the proposals with due sincerity. This way, holding a referendum would have true value and the results would be persuasive.
Jane Ywe-hwan is an associate professor in the Department of Applied Japanese at National Pingtung University.
Translated by Chang Ho-ming
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