Mon, Dec 17, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Referendum trouble may be blessing in disguise

By John Yu 于則章

The results of the 10 referendums held alongside the Nov. 24 nine-in-one elections have been described as a major defeat for the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). The defeat of the proposal to have the national team compete at the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics using the name “Taiwan” instead of “Chinese Taipei” was a heavy blow to many who have advocated using a referendum to achieve formal independence and a new “sovereign” state.

If not even a referendum on the name of the Olympic team could pass — the proposal that has the least political baggage — then the Formosa Alliance should think twice before putting all its eggs in one basket and proposing referendums on independence and UN participation.

The unprecedented “referendum turmoil” might not be a bad thing and could even give the DPP an opportunity to extricate itself from its current political dilemma. Holding a referendum to let people directly express their views is the best, and perhaps only, way to stop wasting social resources on highly controversial issues on which there is no social consensus.

Even the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) has had a drastic change of heart: After viewing referendums as a horrendous scourge, it put forward three proposals — against air pollution, food imports from areas in Japan and the construction of new coal-fired power plants.

A referendum is a double-edged sword. Seven passed last month: The ones already mentioned and four others on using nuclear power to smoothen the transition to green energy, continuing to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman in the Civil Code, banning education on homosexuality in elementary and junior-high schools, and defining the rights of same-sex couples in a separate law.

The next issue is dealing with the discrepancy between the ideals behind and real-life implications of the referendums on Japanese food imports, nuclear power and air pollution.

For instance, according to the referendum outcomes, Paragraph 1, Article 95 of the Electricity Act (電業法) — the “nuclear-free homeland” clause — should be abolished.

However, the Cabinet has said that the policy remains in place, but without 2025 as a deadline.

This means that the government must slow down implementation of its policy to develop renewable energy — which has caused tensions between local farmers, fishermen and environmentalists — review it and start anew, which is probably a good thing for Taiwan, as well as the DPP.

The referendum on defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman in the Civil Code contradicts the Council of Grand Justices’ Constitutional Interpretation No. 748. Although the referendum passed, it cannot change the legal recognition of same-sex unions.

However, the passage of the referendum on defining the rights of same-sex couples in a separate law means that the DPP must follow mainstream public opinion and enact such a law, which should help it out of its predicament.

Perhaps the “referendum turmoil” will cure Taiwan’s collective manic depression and allow all players to calm down, rethink, reflect and initiate new dialogue to resolve conflict.

The DPP, which has been trapped in a seesaw struggle between progressive and conservative forces for the past two years, might also get a chance to resolve its political dilemma, and administer the nation in a more pragmatic and stable manner.

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