Sat, Feb 17, 2001 - Page 1 News List

Premier stands firm on referendum idea

CONTINUING ARGUMENT Chang Chun-hsiung is confident that a plebiscite on the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant could be held without a related law being passed by legislators

By Stephanie Low  /  STAFF REPORTER

Premier Chang Chun-hsiung (張俊雄) said yesterday that the Executive Yuan is "cautiously weighing" the possibility of holding a non-binding referendum on the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant (核四) along with the year-end legislative elections.

Chang made the remark during a courtesy call to the legislature yesterday, responding to questions from opposition legislators who were concerned about the DPP's intention to push for a public referendum in December to seek a "final" solution to the controversial project.

While a referendum law is unlikely to pass without support from opposition lawmakers, the anti-nuclear DPP has argued that a referendum on the project could still be held without a law.

"Without a legal basis, a referendum will be no more than an alternative opinion poll. This will be for reference purposes only and won't have any legal effect," Chang said.

"Because of this concern, the Executive Yuan is still studying [the possibility of holding such a referendum] and at the same time proposing to negotiate with the opposition parties on the enactment of a referendum law," Chang added.

During the visit, Chang presented to the legislators a list of 17 priority bills and amendments that the Executive Yuan wishes to pass in this legislative session, topped by the referendum law.

Chang said that the lack of an institutional measure to solve a public policy dispute was responsible for the 20-year debate over the plant, during which Taiwan had paid a heavy price.

"If we don't seize this opportunity to set up a permanent system, the price we have paid will be worthless," Chang said.

On the legislators' question as to whether the plant issue will be put to a referendum under the new law, Chang did not offer a definite answer.

"This will depend on how the rules are set after the legislature passes the law," Chang said.

Opposition lawmakers have insisted that a public policy that is already in place should be excluded from a referendum.

Legislative Yuan speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平), meanwhile, warned of the risk of triggering a fresh round of turmoil if the Executive Yuan plans to use its power to hold a public referendum on the plant project -- when it has just announced a resumption of the work to calm months of political unrest.

"It will cause a lot of problems and suspicion that the Executive Yuan is trying to interfere with the elections," Wang said.

Hwang Yih-jiau (黃義交), spokesman for the People First Party (PFP) legislative caucus, urged Chang to take a neutral stand on the matter, rather than siding with the DPP.

"The ruling party, based on campaign considerations, may see a need to split the 23 million people into two extremes -- anti-nuclear and pro-nuclear camps -- so as to gain an advantageous position. But as the nation's top executive, the premier should perform his duty according to the law," Hwang said.

It is generally believed that the DPP may be able to secure support from traditional, anti-nuclear DPP voters, who constitute around 30 percent of the electorate, if the plant becomes a major issue in the year-end elections.

In this scenario, the three major opposition parties, including the KMT, PFP and New Party, would be forced to vie for the 50 percent of the electorate who support the plant project.

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