President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) yesterday accused the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) of being infected with "democracy phobia" and unable to adjust to the nation's deepening democracy.
"Although the former rulers who opposed democratization and reforms have now become the opposition power, they still cannot break away from their authoritarian past," Chen said. "They are constantly on the defensive and are contradictory toward changes that might undermine their vested interests. It seems they are inflicted with democracy phobia -- a mentality they bear from the past."
Chen was speaking in his capacity as the chairman of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) at the inauguration of a seminar held by the party to discuss the nation's holding of a referendum next year.
The seminar was part of activities to celebrate the DPP's 17th anniversary today.
The referendum is central to the party's presidential election campaign and is also connected to a number of issues including Taiwan's bid to join the World Health Organization (WHO), the decision whether to continue the construction of the nation's Fourth Nuclear Power Plant and the implementation of reforms in the Legislative Yuan.
Chen said yesterday the DPP is obligated to push for legislation on a referendum in order to restore this right to the public.
"It's been the founding spirit of the DPP to honor the principle that a nation's power resides in its people. I'd like to call on all the DPP members to make all possible endeavors to pass the referendum law for the sake of the national development and the construction of a sound political system," Chen said.
The president yesterday also defended the government's decision to hold a national referendum coinciding with the presidential election.
"Some people [opposition politicians] criticized the idea to coincide the holding of the referendum with the presidential election. However, in the US, it is a common practice because it helps save money. In 2002 alone, a total of 42 states in the US held referendums with high public participation," Chen said.
However, in Taiwan, the president continued, "the concept of a referendum has long been neglected and oppressed because the conservatives still treat a referendum as a monster. They don't sincerely support and respect it."
As lawmakers across the political spectrum squabbled over whether the referendum law should include a controversial sovereignty referendum, Presidential Secretary General Chiou I-jen (邱義仁) yesterday said, "The referendum law should not exclude the sovereignty issue, but the DPP would take a passive stance toward that issue -- that is the party prefers the use of a defensive referendum to be used when China threatens to attack Taiwan."
Asked how a referendum would impact cross-strait relations, deputy secretary-general of the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait Yin Wan-ching (顏萬進) yesterday said, "The referendum is a tool Taiwan could exploit to break through China's limitations imposed on Taiwan.
"It's been China's strategy to set up certain off-limit areas to warn Taiwan as to what it can do. However, the use of a referendum could be used by Taiwan to break through that forbidden ground," Yin said.
Chang Wu-yueh (張五岳), professor at the Institute of China Studies at Tamkang University yesterday said that of the three referendums the government is going to hold next year, the referendum on Taiwan's WHO bid is the one that worries China the most, as it involves the sensitive "one China" policy and affects the trilateral relations among US, China and Taiwan.