President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) are up to no good, abusing the “birdcage” Referendum Act (公民投票法) to propose a referendum on the construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in Gongliao District (貢寮), New Taipei City (新北市).
They are treating it as a public poll, but this is different to the referendums held in several states in the US during the time of the US presidential election last year.
In this case, it is more about Ma and Jiang trying to appear to have sincere intentions, while actually trying to play the system: They are not interested in what the public actually thinks.
During last year’s US presidential election, the referendums for allowing same-sex marriages were passed in two states, and another two states voted in favor of the legalization of the recreational use of cannabis.
In Maine, the question was: “Do you want to allow the State of Maine to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples?”
Maryland had already approved legislation in March last year that would allow same-sex couples to receive legally recognized marriage certificates, but still held the referendum.
The legalization of marijuana in Washington state first went through a petition before being sent to the state Senate, which did not want to touch it.
It was then, according to the law, put to the public in a referendum.
The proposed law clearly stipulated allowing and supervising the production, sale and possession of marijuana, as well as how it would be taxed and to what use the tax revenue would be put.
The question asked whether the law should be enacted.
The Colorado cannabis referendum entailed an amendment to the law to allow people over the age of 21 to legally possess one ounce of marijuana and the state government to supervise the sale and taxation of the drug.
All four referendums were explicit in their legal significance: Three concerned the creation of legislation, and the other put proposed legislation to a public vote.
They were carried out according to correct procedure, and freely decided in a vote. In the end, all four received majority support and were passed.
The referendum on the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant is neither about creating legislation, nor is it asking for approval of legislation.
The question put forward — “Do you agree that the construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant should be halted and that it not become operational?” — is disingenuous.
If Ma or Jiang had any respect for the electorate, the responsible approach would be to have the legislature pass a law allowing the continued construction of the plant, as well as the budget for it, and to ask the public whether they approve, having the legislation decided by a majority vote.
This government is trying to pull a fast one, exploiting serious flaws in the Referendum Act to propose a meaningless referendum.
However, they are not fooling anyone with this particular contrivance.
James Wang is a media commentator.
Translated by Paul Cooper