The Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) legislative caucus intends to propose a referendum on whether to continue construction of Taiwan’s Fourth Nuclear Power Plant — the Longmen (龍門) plant in New Taipei City’s (新北市) Gongliao District (貢寮).
On Tuesday, the Central Election Commission announced that, once the referendum proposal has been approved by the legislature, the commission could announce a date for the poll.
The legal basis for the commission’s position appears to be Article 16 of the Referendum Act (公民投票法), which states that when the Legislative Yuan proposes and adopts a referendum initiative, it can hand it directly to the commission for implementation. Unlike other referendum proposals, it would not have to be examined by the Referendum Review Commission.
However, if the KMT legislative caucus proposes a referendum about stopping construction of the Longmen plant, it could unleash endless controversy over political ethics.
Why so? The Referendum Act and the Enforcement Rules of the Referendum Act (公民投票法施行細則) assume that any referendum proposed by the Legislative Yuan would be due to conflict between the legislature and executive departments.
Article 3 of the regulations for implementing presentations or debates on national referendums (全國性公民投票意見發表會或辯論會實施辦法) stipulates that when a debate is held on a referendum proposed by the legislature, the legislature will represent the side in support of the referendum and related government departments will represent the opposition. It assumes that the side opposed to a referendum initiative would be “government departments.”
Based on this, is the KMT caucus qualified to propose a referendum about stopping construction of the Longmen plant? The answer is surely no.
First, the KMT is basically in favor of continued construction of the plant, so how could it argue in favor of stopping it?
Second, if the side proposing to stop construction is composed of KMT lawmakers, and the opposing side represented by the KMT-controlled Executive Yuan, then any debate would become a farce directed and acted out by one and the same party.
That is not the only political farce that could ensue.
Based on the existing Referendum Act and its enforcement rules, problems may arise if opponents of the Longmen plant propose a referendum on construction, posing the question: “Are you in favor of building the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant?” This referendum would not be approved by the Referendum Review Commission, and would also be politically absurd. After all, how could the side opposed to building the plant argue in support of its continued construction in a referendum debate?
Under existing laws, it would be absurd for the KMT legislative caucus to propose a referendum on the plant, because the opposing side would have to be “government departments.” How could government departments be expected to argue against continued construction of the plant in a referendum debate?
The KMT thinks it can use Article 16 of the Referendum Act as a clever way to ensure continued construction of the plant, because a referendum proposed and approved by the KMT’s legislative majority would not have to be examined by the Referendum Review Commission.
If the KMT legislative caucus proposed a referendum about continuing construction of the plant, and the CEC approved it, it would mean that the supporting and opposing sides to the referendum would be the same political entity. That is a ridiculous prospect.
Chen I-chung is an associate research fellow at the Research Center for Humanities and Social Sciences at the Academia Sinica.
Translated by Julian Clegg