Thu, Jan 06, 2005 - Page 1 News List

Cabinet OKs Referendum Law changes

EXPANDING RIGHTS The revisions will mandate a plebiscite on any change to the nation's boundaries, but the Taipei mayor says the measure is unconstitutional

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

With the backing of the Presidential Office, the Executive Yuan yesterday approved draft amendments to the Referendum Law (公投法) despite opposition voiced by Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九).

"The Presidential Office and we see eye to eye on the matter and have reached a consensus over the issue," Premier Yu Shyi-kun told reporters after attending the press conference held after the weekly Cabinet meeting.

Chinese-language media had reported that the Presidential Office was caught off guard after learning that the Executive Yuan planned to approve draft amendments to the Referendum Law yesterday.

Yu also dismissed the speculation that the legal overhaul was made to counter China's "anti-secession law."

"It's not true; we had intended to approve the proposal in December," Yu said. "We eventually delayed it because we needed to further negotiate with social groups expressing different opinions."

The Executive Yuan had planned to approve the draft in the run-up to the legislative elections, but withdrew it from its weekly agenda at the last minute after the US government expressed trepidation over Chen's plans to rewrite the Constitution.

Questioning the timing of the approval of the legal overhaul, Ma said that it might cause misunderstanding.

"I don't know why the Executive Yuan gave it the go-ahead now since the tenure of the incumbent legislature is soon to expire," he told reporters after attending the weekly Cabinet meeting.

Ma also voiced opposition to the Executive Yuan's draft, which would allow the electorate to enjoy the right to have the final say on any changes to the nation's territorial boundaries.

"Until the Constitution is amended, it's unconstitutional to revamp the Referendum Law to grant the people such a right," he said. "If the amendments are made to counter the `anti-secession law,' I expect tension to augment across the Taiwan Strait."

Ma said that the Executive Yuan should have proposed to nullify the article allowing the head of state to initiate a "defensive referendum."

"While the president has the constitutional power to declare a state of emergency and use such a power to call a so-called `defensive referendum' to protect the country's sovereignty when the country faces external threat to its security, it doesn't make sense to empower the president to initiate such a referendum in the Referendum Law," he said.

Minister without Portfolio Hsu Chi-hsiung (許志雄), however, expressed different opinions.

"The reason that we are proposing the legal revision now is simple; because we're a responsible government and it makes perfect sense to present the proposal before the Cabinet resigns and to ask the incumbent legislature, which enacted the Referendum Law, to amend the deeply flawed legislation before its final session ends," he said.

The remaining two weeks of the legislative session should be sufficient for the legislature to revamp the statute, if lawmakers put their minds to completing the task, Hsu said.

Responding to Ma's criticism of the legal overhaul, Hsu said that Ma did not have the right to speak on the topic at the Cabinet meeting.

"While he or his proxy could've voiced their opinions during the review meetings, they gave up their right and chose not to," Hsu said.

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