Sun, Dec 28, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Penghu referendum a no show

STAY-AWAYS While the turnout for the vote on legalizing casinos was derisory, the county government says it still has a mandate to push for legal changes


A referendum in Penghu yesterday over whether the archipelago's local government should allow casino gambling on the islands was something of a damp squib yesterday with only 21 percent of those eligible to vote actually doing so.

Of those that voted, 7,830 supported the legalization of casinos while 5,984 voted against.

While the disappointing turnout might suggest that the referendum was not an accurate reflection of public opinion, Penghu County Commissioner Lai Feng-wei (賴峰偉) insisted this was not so.

"Despite the low turnout rate, the referendum results are still representative of Penghu residents' views. Those who didn't vote forfeited their right to express their opinion," Lai said.

Voters cast ballots for or against the county government's bid to establish casinos in special tourism districts in the island county as part of its tourism and economic development policy.

A vocal minority of residents have claimed for a decade or so that only opening casinos can reverse the archipelago's economic decline.

"The cold weather probably has something to do with the low turnout rate. We also didn't do enough to mobilize votes in terms of raising public awareness," said Lai.

"The reason voter turnout was so low was that people were only given two choices on the ballots -- either yes or no. However, most people support a third choice -- they support casinos but only under certain conditions," said Chinese Nationalist Party Legislator Lin Pin-kun (林柄坤).

Lin Yaw-ken (林耀根), director of the county's tourism department, said that another problem with the vote was that many of Penghu's eligible voters do not actually reside in Penghu. "Even during regular elections, only about 40,000 of Penghu's 68,000 turn out to vote," Lin said.

Former County Commissioner Kao Chih-peng (高植澎), however, said that if the referendum showed anything clearly, with turnout so low, it was that Penghu residents simply didn't care about the issue of casino legalization.

"There really is no direct correlation between the establishment of casinos and improving the economic conditions of Penghu residents. The economy does not depend on this issue alone, and casinos will concentrate all financial gain in just the special tourism districts," Kao said.

"In the long run, it will only hurt the county," he said.

Lin said, however, that the establishment of casinos would have a significant impact on the direction and scale of future tourism plans.

"If we establish casinos, we expect to attract around 2 million tourists per year. If casinos are not a part of tourism plans then we estimate around 800,000 tourists a year in seven to 10 years' time," Lin said.

Currently, Penghu attracts about 400,000 to 500,000 tourists each year.

Lai said that while the referendum results were influential, they are legally just reference information for the central government.

Lin said that, with the confirmed support of Penghu residents, his department's next move would be to establish a research and action committee to decide on how to revise the Offshore Islands Development Law (離島建設條例) and to push these revisions through the Legislative Yuan.

To boost Penghu's economy, Lai vowed that the county government would push for revisions that required casino investors to pay a percentage of their income to the county government and give priority to Penghu residents for jobs.

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