Fri, Nov 28, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Legislature passes referendum law

DISMAY The bill was passed clause by clause with the government's draft being almost totally eclipsed by the watered-down pan-blue version

By Fiona Lu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Chinese Nationalist Party Legislator Tseng Tsai Mei-tsuo, center, is held back by her colleagues as she attempts to push down the ``opposition'' button to support Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Trong Chai, who agreed to withdraw his version of the referendum law, in the legislature yesterday.

PHOTO: GEORGE TSORNG, TAIPEI TIMES

The pan-blue parties dominated the legislative showdown on the Referendum Law (公民投票法) yesterday, as the legislature acted on its promise to complete a referendum law by the end of this month.

Cashing in on their numerical edge in the 223-seat legislature, opposition Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and People First Party (PFP) lawmakers passed a law that did not fulfill the Cabinet's hopes.

The pan-blue camp vetoed most of the pan-green parties' ideas, denying the Cabinet the power to hold advisory referendums, and excluding the issues of sovereignty, territory, and a proposed new constitution from the referendum process.

The new law denies the government the right to hold advisory referendums to gauge public opinion.

Government officials would face legal punishment for violations of the referendum law.

The opposition-controlled legislature excluded from the referendum process the pan-green camp's ideas for allowing referendums on altering the country's name, flag, anthem and territory.

This came despite an announcement by KMT whip Lee Chia-chin (李嘉進) just before yesterday's showdown.

Lee had claimed that "KMT caucus members decided to withdraw the ban because Chairman Lien Chan (連戰) recently declared the existence of the Republic of China. The KMT caucus members thought that we should safeguard the people's right to make proposals in the future when they feel that Taiwan needs to think about a change."

The new law restricts citizens' referendum rights on the nation's major policies and on constitutional amendments.

The KMT and PFP lawmakers held that the country's overhaul of the Constitution should be carried out only in accordance with the regular procedure of the Legislative Yuan.

Eligible topics:

1. Laws passed by the legislature;

2. Proposed new laws;

3. Controversies concerning major national policies;

4. Constitutional amendemnts;

* Excluded from referendums are issues involving budgets, taxation, investment, salaries and personal matters.

* The ad hoc Referendum Supervisory Committee has the final say in what is put before voters.

* The president is entitled to initiate a referendum on national security issues when the country faces an external threat that could interfere with national sovereignty (the "defensive referendum")

Administraion:

The Executive Yuan is responsible for nationwide referendums, while local governments are to manage regional referendums.

Initiative:

The government is prohibited from proposing or commissioning a referendum except on statutory grounds stipulated in the Referendum Law (the right to call an advisory referendum was vetoed).The Legislative Yuan is able to initiate a referendum on topics that lawmakers feel should be referred to the people.

Threshold:

A successful referendum petition needs the signatures of 0.5 percent of the electorate joining in the latest presidential election (approximately 63,000 signatures) before it can be screened by the Referendum Supervisory Committee.

Date:

A referendum should take place within six months of the Central Election Committee's announcement of a successful petition. Referendums can be held on the same date as national elections, including presidential elections.

Punishment:

Government officials violating the Referendum Law by proposing or commissioning a referendum would face legal punishment with sentences ranging from six months to three years' imprisonment and be required to reimburse any public expenditure incurred by the referendum.


GRAPHIC: TT

The legislature resolved in the new law that the Executive Yuan would be in charge of nationwide referendums, while regional referendums would be managed by local governments.

A Referendum Review Committee (公投審議委員會) would be formed to examine proposed topics for referendums and to make rules for implementing referendums after their approval.

The referendum committee, in addition to the chairman of the Central Election Committee (CEC), would be comprised of 20 commissioners recommended by the various political parties, with seats apportioned according to the parties' representation in the legislature.

The commissioners would have to be confirmed by the president.

A referendum would take place within six months after an announcement by the authorities, according to the provisions of the new law.

Lawmakers concluded that referendums could be held on the same date as national elections, including the presidential election and those for county commissioners and mayors.

The pan-blue parties decided to be open to a defensive referendum, which offers the president the power to initiate a special referendum on changing the country's sovereignty when the country faces external threats to its security.

A referendum item, after being approved or rejected by the electorate, could not be presented for another referendum for three years from the date that the CEC released the referendum result.

Referendum items on major infrastructure policy issues could not be reintroduced within eight years, according to the new law.

The vote upset Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawma-kers and their pan-green allies in the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU).

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