Wed, Mar 11, 2015 - Page 1 News List

Referendum Act reform petition to enter phase II

ESCAPING THE ‘BIRDCAGE’:Taiwan March’s petition to abolish the 50% threshold gathered 130,000 signatures. It will have to gather 150,000 a month in the next leg

By Lii Wen  /  Staff reporter

Huang Kuo-chang, right, of Taiwan March, and other members of the group submit 130,000 signatures to the Central Election Commission in Taipei yesterday to request a referendum on the Referendum Act.

Photo: Chien Jung-fong, Taipei Times

Youth activist group Taiwan March yesterday submitted its petition to reform the much-maligned Referendum Act (公民投票法), following a seven-month campaign in which scores of grassroots volunteers canvassed across the nation.

The petition garnered about 130,000 signatures — well past the threshold of 90,000 for the petition’s first stage — paving the way for the petition’s second phase.

The group aims to abolish the current 50 percent turnout threshold in the Referendum Act, saying that the “unattainable threshold” stifles voters’ constitutional right to express their views through direct democracy.

Led by Taiwan March cofounder and Academia Sinica researcher Huang Kuo-chang (黃國昌), the group demanded that a referendum be held on the issue to coincide with the presidential elections in January next year.

“The right for people to participate in referendums has been restricted and deprived by the ‘birdcage’ Referendum Act itself,” Huang said.

While six nationwide referendums have been held since the passage of the Referendum Act in 2003, none has been declared valid, as each failed to meet the turnout threshold.

By law, general referendums can be initiated by members of the public through a two-stage process: a first-phase petition that requires the support of 0.5 percent of the electorate, followed by a second phase that requires signatures from 5 percent.

As there are about 18 million eligible voters in the nation, the petition’s first phase required the support of about 90,000 citizens, while its upcoming second phase will require at least 900,000 signatures.

The second phase of the petition is to begin after the Central Election Commission ratifies the petition’s first phase within about a month.

Given that the petition’s second phase will require completion within six months, the group will need about 150,000 signatories a month — more than what the group achieved in more than half a year.

Taiwan March volunteers caused a minor stir outside the Central Election Commission’s offices in Taipei yesterday when they arrived with more than 100 large cardboard boxes filled with petition forms.

In addition to the campaign to launch a referendum, Huang called on legislators to amend the Referendum Act, saying that both paths toward reform should be pursued concurrently.

He demanded that legislators propose an amendment to the act by the end of this legislative session — which is to close by the end of May — and vowed to organize mass protests if legislators failed to launch related reforms.

Taiwan March was one of the numerous youth advocacy groups that blossomed in the wake of the Sunflower movement, in which student-led protesters occupied the Legislative Yuan’s main chamber for 23 days in March and early April last year to protest the government’s handling of a proposed trade deal with China.

Founded by Huang and prominent Sunflower movement student leaders Lin Fei-fan (林飛帆) and Chen Wei-ting (陳為廷), the group has since focused its efforts on reforming the Referendum Act, saying that events leading up to the Sunflower movement illustrated systemic problems with the nation’s democratic representation.

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