The way President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration has reacted to the widespread calls to abort the construction of the highly controversial Fourth Nuclear Power Plant is an example of the way the nation’s rule of law is routinely trampled on by the authorities and exposes the dictatorial nature of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT).
As the scheduled time for the installation of fuel rods and the date to commence the operations of reactors in the plant approaches, former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairman Lin I-hsiung (林義雄) began a hunger strike on Tuesday without announcing when it will end. This has inspired a massive outpouring of popular opposition demanding that the facility be scrapped.
The history of Taiwan’s anti-nuclear movement has its roots in the 1970s when nuclear skepticism spread to local residents near the three active nuclear facilities. The movement proper began in 1980 when New Taipei City’s Gongliao District (貢寮) was designated as a construction site for the fourth plant. At that time, Taiwan was under authoritarian rule, and there arose a great wave of grassroots protests against industrial pollution brought about by rapid industrialization, which encouraged other social groups to organize and accelerated Taiwan’s initial political liberalization process.
One of the most salient slogans that has characterized the movement since then is “resisting nuclear energy is resisting dictatorship” (反核就是反獨裁), reflecting the movement’s fight against the then-authoritarian KMT regime, implementation of policies in defiance of public opinion and misinformation about nuclear energy being safe, clean, reliable and cost-effective, as a result of deliberate official cover-ups or ignorance.
More than three decades after democratization, democracy in Taiwan appears to have become dictatorship in disguise under the Ma administration.
The widely accepted fact that more than 70 percent of Taiwanese oppose the plant, as various surveys consistently show, warrants a reconsideration of the policy. The way to deal with the issue, as stipulated in 2001’s Constitutional Interpretation No. 520, regarding a major policy change involving withholding of a statutory budget, is to follow Article 63 of the Constitution, Article 3 of the Amendment of the Constitution and Article 17 of the Act Governing the Legislative Yuan’s Power (立法院職權行使法), under which Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) proposes terminating the plant and seeks legislative approval.
However, the Ma administration insisted on continued construction of the plant and holding a referendum on whether it should be put into operation. The reason the Ma administration favors the nuclear issue being resolved through a referendum rather than by a vote in the legislature is obvious: It cannot afford to see KMT lawmakers vote against the government’s position in favor of the plant because that would be seen as a devastating blow to Ma’s reputation and undermine his leadership in the KMT.
That is why Ma and Jiang apparently struggled to answer when asked why they refused to accept the constitutional pathway to bring an end to the controversy. They offered no other reason except to say that: “It’s inappropriate for the legislature to decide on the issue” and “I don’t believe that Taiwanese would accept a decision on the plant made by the legislature.” They have again denigrated the dignity of the Constitution.
Putting the nuclear issue to a referendum is not to return to the people the right to decide on a controversial policy via direct democracy as they have claimed if the problem of unreasonable thresholds is not addressed. It is only to ensure a desired result is obtained by making use of the structural defects in the Referendum Act (公民投票法).
The KMT today remains as it was when it fled to Taiwan as an alien ruler and authoritarian regime in 1949; it therefore still fails to understand why what Lin and his family have suffered mean so much to Taiwanese.
This article has been corrected since it was first published.