Tue, Dec 02, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Cabinet defends Chen's right to hold referendum

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

A "defensive referendum," which President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) has pledged to hold on March 20 next year to coincide with the presidential election, does not require the approval of the Referendum Supervisory Com-mittee, Cabinet Spokesman Lin Chia-lung (林佳龍) said yesterday.

"Those who have any basic democratic beliefs would not have such reactionary thinking and consider using such a technical problem to prevent the people from exercising their right to direct democracy," Lin told reporters at the Executive Yuan yesterday afternoon.

"I'm calling on those jumping on the referendum train to do as the people demand instead of hijacking the train and going in the opposite direction or even trying to derail the train," he said.

Lin was referring to remarks made by Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), who said that the approval of the Referendum Supervisory Committee, which was created by the referendum law passed last week, is necessary if a "defensive referendum" is to be held.

The referendum law empowers the president to initiate a "defensive referendum" to enforce the country's sovereignty when the country faces external threats to its security.

Although the law stipulates that the initiative requires the approval of the Executive Yuan's weekly plenary Cabinet meeting, it fails to specify whether such a referendum needs the approval of the Referendum Supervisory Committee.

Lin said that the clause on "defensive referendums" was a special regulation which clearly stipulates that the issue has to be "handed over to the people," not to the Referendum Supervisory Committee.

Although the Referendum Supervisory Committee was created to screen the eligibility of proposed referendum topics, it does not include the "defensive referendum," he said.

"The law stipulates that the initiation of a defensive referendum requires the approval of the Executive Yuan's weekly plenary Cabinet meeting. Therefore, it does not make sense for the Referendum Supervisory Committee, which is an ad hoc unit and has lower administrative status than the Cabinet, to review and approve the defensive referendum," Lin said.

Time is essential when holding a "defensive referendum," Lin said, and it would be time-consuming if the Referendum Supervisory Committee were to call a meeting to review the eligibility of the "defensive referendum," Lin said.

"What equally worries us is that the committee may become a battlefield for partisan feuding because the committee is composed of political parties in the ratio of the parties' representation in the legislature," Lin said.

Dismissing suggestions that the "defensive referendum" would be a one-off event, Lin quoted Premier Yu Shyi-kun as saying that the government can hold such a referendum in response to the cross-strait situation.

Lin also explained why Chen picked March 20 as the date to hold the "defensive referendum."

"I think the public should've asked `why not March 20' instead of `why March 20,'" Lin said. "How come we cannot hold the defensive referendum while China has over 400 missiles targeting us and claims it has the ability to stage an invasion in 2006?"

Besides, the "defensive referendum" would not be held to change the status quo, as the opposition bloc claims, but to maintain the status quo, Lin said.

"Such suggestions of equating the `defensive referendum' to provocation is simply reactionary and overreaction," he said. "While the onus is on the president to ensure the security of the nation and the people, what good does it do to provoke a war across the Taiwan Strait?"

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