Thu, Dec 02, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Cabinet postpones referendum reform

LEGAL REVISIONS The Executive Yuan has said it needs more public input before it submits draft amendments to the Referendum Law, but US pressure may have been key

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

In an apparent move to quell US concern over his plan to create a new constitution that President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) aspires to put to a referendum in 2006, the Executive Yuan yesterday withdrew legal revisions to the Referendum Law (公投法) from its weekly agenda at the last minute.

Saying that the draft amendments required more input from the general public, Cabinet Spokesman Chen Chi-mai (陳其邁) told a press conference held after the weekly closed-door meeting that the Cabinet would not discuss the issue until after the legislative elections.

"While some private groups are complaining about the high number of signatures needed for a petition to mount a national referendum, we thought it was a better idea to solicit more public opinions before taking care of the matter," Chen Chi-mai said.

If the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) wins the legislative polls, Chen Chi-mai said that the Cabinet hopes to see the draft amendments pass into law by 2006 after a pan-green dominated legislature successfully abolishes the "mission-based" National Assembly and clears the way for the electorate to have the final say on constitutional amendments.

The draft the Cabinet had intended to discuss yesterday sought to lower the threshold of petition filing of a national referendum to 0.05 percent of eligible voters, or about 8,000 people, in the latest presidential polls. The law currently stipulates that a successful referendum petition needs 0.5 percent of eligible voters -- about 80,000 people.

The law also mandates that signatures of 5 percent of the electorate joining in the latest presidential election, or approximately 800,000 signatures, are needed before the referendum petition can be screened by the Referendum Review Committee.

The Executive Yuan hopes to lower this figure to 2 percent, or about 300,000 voters, for a national referendum, and 5 percent to initiate a constitutional amendment.

The government is also seeking to abolish the Referendum Review Committee (公投審議委員會) established under the law, which the Cabinet says runs counter to the spirit of direct democracy.

They proposed to empower the Central Election Commission (CEC) and its local offices to handle referendum affairs. The committee is established under the law to allow a means of screening referendum topics.

While the government is prohibited from proposing or commissioning a referendum except on the statutory grounds stipulated in the law, the Cabinet is seeking to obtain the power to do so. The draft proposes that the Executive Yuan have the right to ask the CEC to initiate a referendum.

Chen Chi-mai reiterated that the cross-strait policy remains unchanged, after the US government expressed concern over the constitutional reform plan, which has become a major campaign issue in the upcoming legislative elections.

"Our cross-strait policy is crystal clear: We are committed to safeguarding peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and do not support unilateral change to the status quo," he said. "This is based on the five pledges President Chen made during his inauguration speech in 2000, reiterated in his second inauguration address in May, and repeated during his Double Ten National Day address."

During the May inauguration speech, the president vowed to honor the "five pledges" promised in his 2000 inauguration address. He also urged both sides to establish a dynamic "peace and stability framework" for interactions.

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