After proposing that the fate of the controversial Fourth Nuclear Power Plant should be put to a referendum, Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) yesterday said he would resign if the government “loses the vote” and construction of the plant is halted.
Fielding questions from Taiwan Solidarity Union Legislator Lin Shih-chia (林世嘉) at a question-and-answer session in the legislature, Jiang said he had not yet decided whether he would cast his ballot in the plebiscite.
He said his decision to participate in the referendum was contingent on “how the referendum question is phrased.”
A decision was made at a meeting called by President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) earlier last week that the longstanding issue be settled through a referendum, and that the vote is to be initiated by KMT lawmakers tabling a proposal in the legislature, with voters being asked: “Do you support halting construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant?”
The government has come under fire from the opposition and anti-nuclear groups, saying the move was designed to weaken the anti-nuclear movement, given the high threshold required for a referendum to pass. A referendum would require mobilizing more than 9.15 million people, or half the eligible voters, to vote and earn 4.57 million “yes” votes to have the plant cease construction.
Judging from the low turnout in the previous six referendums, all held on the same day as a national election, the chance that the referendum would pass appears low.
Lin said Jiang’s immediate response to her question showed that the referendum was politically motivated, adding that she would otherwise have encouraged people to vote so that they could express their views.
“As an initiator of the referendum, he [Jiang] should show his enthusiasm for the referendum and call on all people, regardless of their position, to cast their ballots. ... Isn’t he supposed to encourage public participation in the referendum?” Lin said.
During the meeting, Jiang engaged in a fierce exchange of words with several opposition lawmakers.
According to the Referendum Act (公民投票法), at least five debates must be held for national referendums.
If the question is phrased as the KMT has proposed, it would lead to a “ridiculous” situation during debate because KMT lawmakers, who initiated the referendum, are on the side in support of the referendum and government representatives are against the vote, the side against the topic, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Pan Men-an (潘孟安) said.
Jiang said that KMT lawmakers do not necessarily have to attend the debates.
“We don’t know who will be on the affirmative side in the debates yet. Maybe anti-nuclear experts can be on the side in lieu of KMT lawmakers,” Jiang said.
“It’s so irresponsible. You leave the issue to be decided by a referendum and you cannot represent yourself in the debates. Isn’t that preposterous?” Pan asked.
Jiang bluntly rejected the idea advocated by the DPP and anti-nuclear groups that the referendum question should be phrased in a way that asks people if the government should continue construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant.
“If we have a plan to build a new nuclear power plant and we will have a referendum on that, we should ask people if they support the plan. Since the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant has been under construction, the question should be whether people want to change the policy to cease construction,” Jiang said.
In response to comments by KMT Legislator Yang Chiung-ying (楊瓊瓔), Jiang said he would step down to take political responsibility if the government lost in the referendum.
He said that if construction of the plant is halted, it could lead to bankruptcy for state-owned Taiwan Power Co (Taipower, 台電) and other problems, such as power shortages.
“As the premier, I am responsible for that. I will resign,” he said.