Sat, Aug 03, 2013 - Page 1 News List

Legislators brawl over nuclear plant

GETTING TO GRIPS WITH THE SITUATION:Lawmakers wrestled, punched and threw water at each other, while voting machines were stuffed with shredded newspaper

By Shih Hsiu-chuan  /  Staff reporter

Members of the ruling and opposition parties get physical in the legislature yesterday after opposition lawmakers took over the podium during talks on the proposed referendum on the continued construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in Gongliao District, New Taipei City.

Photo: Lo Pei-der, Taipei Times

A government-backed proposal to authorize a national referendum on the controversial Fourth Nuclear Power Plant remained stalled in the legislature yesterday after Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) lawmakers failed to clear opposition counterparts from the speaker’s podium so that they could open the session.

A series of brawls broke out among lawmakers, and the KMT was unable to recover the podium, which had been occupied by opposition lawmakers since 5pm on Thursday.

At the podium, lawmakers grappled with each other, exchanged punches and threw water and plastic bottles at each other.

If the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) manages to keep control of the podium until Tuesday, which could be the last day a plenary session is held in the second extra legislative session that will run until Friday, KMT caucus whip Lai Shyh-bao (賴士葆) said the party would call a third extra session to vote on the proposal.

The proposal “must clear the legislature by the end of this month,” Lai said.

In response, DPP caucus whip Wu Ping-jui (吳秉叡) said: “We will hold on until Tuesday, even if there’s a third extra session, a fourth, or a fifth.”

The KMT has vowed to push through the proposal before the next formal legislative session, which begins next month, to prevent a plebiscite being delayed until next year, as a vote can take place no later than six months after the proposal gains legislative approval in accordance with the Referendum Act (公民投票法).

In a new session, votes on proposals can only take place after an interpellation session that would take six weeks to finish. This would mean that the referendum proposal would not be voted on until November at the earliest, if it is not passed by the end of this month.

Since the “seven-in-one” nationwide local election is slated for the end of next year, if the referendum is held close to the election, it could help boost voter turnout.

Low voter turnout in all six referendums in the nation’s history suggest that the chances of a valid referendum are slim, as it would require at least 50 percent of the electorate to vote. Therefore, the government would have legitimate justification to continue construction of the plant, despite serious safety concerns.

The way the question is phrased in the KMT proposal — “Do you agree that the construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant should be halted and that it not become operational (你是否同意核四廠停止興建不得運轉)?” — means a failed referendum would be taken to show that people support continuation of the plant’s construction.

DPP Legislator Cheng Li-chiun (鄭麗君) said her party would never allow such a referendum, whose question was proposed in a “tricky way” to be held under the “bird-cage” Referendum Act, referring to the 50 percent threshold.

“Opposition to nuclear energy has been a core DPP value, as has implementation of referendums. The KMT proposal for a referendum is not genuine democracy. We will not retreat and will show the public that we are capable of defending our values,” she said.

The DPP would only agree to a referendum on the plant after the threshold of a 50 percent turnout is removed from the Referendum Act, Wu said.

KMT caucus whip Lin Hung-chih (林鴻池) labeled the DPP a “party of violence” and said it was “a disgrace to the legislature.”

The proposal was not about supporting the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant or opposing it, but to give people the right to decide on the fate of the plant, Lin said.

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