KMT agrees to talks on Referendum Act

DAY-LONG WAIT::The new premier’s policy address to the legislature was delayed from 10am to 6:20pm as opposition lawmakers protested a planned referendum

By Shih Hsiu-chuan and Chris Wang  /  Staff reporters

Wed, Feb 27, 2013 - Page 1

The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) administration yesterday agreed to discuss what is perceived to be an unusually high threshold stipulated in the Referendum Act (公民投票法), which is crucial to the success or failure of a planned referendum to determine the fate of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant.

However, Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) and KMT Policy Committee chief Lin Hung-chih (林鴻池) both consider the law’s thresholds “reasonable.”

Earlier yesterday, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) lawmakers blocked Jiang from delivering his policy address, scheduled for 10am, by occupying the podium during the first day of the new legislative session.

They demanded that Jiang order a halt to the construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant and that “no more money be wasted” on the project and a referendum.

The demands came after the Cabinet on Monday said it would pursue a referendum on the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant, a move widely regarded by the DPP, the TSU and anti-nuclear groups as a “trick” aimed at ensuring the nuclear power plant begins commercial operations in 2015 as planned.

On the premise that the referendum question would be phrased to ask people whether they support halting construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant, about 9.15 million people, or half of eligible voters, would need to cast ballots for the poll to be valid, while about 4.57 million voters would have to vote “yes” for it to be passed.

In accordance with Article 33 of the Referendum Act, if the referendum fails, no proposal on the same issue can be raised within the following eight years.

Opposition politicians have denounced Jiang for his “politically motivated” referendum proposal, insisting that construction should be suspended and the Referendum Act should be amended if Jiang is serious about his initiative.

Almost all DPP and TSU members said that if a referendum is to be held, the question should be: “Do you support the construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant?” rather than “Do you support suspending construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant?”

The reason behind that is simple: The referendum is not likely to pass given the high voting threshold, they said.

After day-long negotiations, the KMT caucus whips agreed to some requests raised by their DPP and TSU counterparts, and that enabled Jiang to deliver a condensed 12-minute policy address at 6:20pm.

Among the conclusions were that, before the referendum is held in August, the government would not request any more budget for the plant, not load fuel rods in the plant’s first reactor and halt all construction projects other than those that have been contracted out.

The government said the first reactor at the plant is 95 percent complete, while the second reactor is 92 percent complete and that most of the uncompleted projects have been contracted out.

The government agreed that the legislature designate experts to form a task force to oversee the construction of the plant.

KMT caucus whips and government officials also agreed to discuss amendments to the Referendum Act, but no timetable was set nor were possible revisions discussed.

Meanwhile, KMT Secretary-General Tseng Yung-chuan (曾永權) said that KMT party headquarters established a task force on the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant three months ago to address related issues and the task force would serve as the negotiating team between the party and the government on nuclear safety and energy policy.

While both Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) and New Taipei City Mayor Eric Chu (朱立倫) of the KMT yesterday expressed support for a referendum, DPP Chairman Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) reiterated that the DPP opposes the construction of and the allocation of additional budget to the power plant, adding that the government should not resort to a “trick” based on the Referendum Act.

A referendum has become the KMT’s tool to legitimize the construction of the plant, Su said, adding the KMT has always stood on the wrong side of the nation’s democratic development.

Su called on anti-nuclear advocates to “prepare themselves with determination to fight for a nuclear-free homeland.”

Former DPP chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) added that the Referendum Act is unfair and a violation of democratic principles because the act was “basically formulated for every referendum to fail.”

TSU Chairman Huang Kun-huei (黃昆輝) said that a proposed amendment of the Nuclear Reactor Facilities Regulation Act (核子反應器設施管制法), which has been endorsed by lawmakers and is awaiting passage through the legislature, would be enough to deal with the issue.

The amendment proposes that the construction and operations of all nuclear reactors cannot be approved before a local referendum is held where the reactor is located.

Huang said the threshold for the referendum to pass should reference the Offshore Islands Development Act (離島建設條例) which adopts simple plurality.

Former vice president Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) also accused Jiang and the Ma administration of political calculation behind the proposal.

Lu, who has been working on a local referendum in New Taipei City, denounced the idea of a national referendum, saying that New Taipei City is most qualified to hold a referendum on the issue because it has three nuclear power plants in its administrative zone.

Additional reporting by Mo Yan-chih