Ma backs Chu’s absentee vote in referendum plan

MAJORITARIAN MOVE::The New Taipei CIty mayor said that allowing absentee voting in the referendum on the fourth nuclear plant would raise voter turnout

By Mo Yan-chih and Shih Hsiu-chuan  /  Staff reporters

Wed, Mar 06, 2013 - Page 1

President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) yesterday threw his support behind New Taipei City (新北市) Mayor Eric Chu’s (朱立倫) proposal to allow absentee voting in the proposed referendum on the controversial construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in New Taipei City’s Gongliao District (貢寮).

The president approved Chu’s proposal because it would get more people to the polls to express their opinion, Presidential Office spokesperson Lee Chia-fei (李佳霏) said.

Chu on Monday said that the focus of the referendum debate should not be on lowering the threshold for the passage of referendums stipulated by the Referendum Act (公民投票法) — as advocated by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) — but rather on permitting absentee voting and making it more convenient for people to cast their votes.

The idea of holding a national referendum to determine whether the construction of the power plant should be suspended was proposed by Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) last week to address the contentious issue of the nuclear facility.

Chu said referendums are a great mechanism of civil society and that allowing absentee voting would enable more people, such as migrant workers whose households are registered in different cities and counties, to exercise their right to vote.

“Absentee voting will raise voter turnout and increase people’s willingness to participate in the referendum. We should not talk about nuclear power without first ensuring nuclear safety, and the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant should not start operating if it is unsafe,” the New Taipei City mayor said yesterday when asked to elaborate on his views about the issue.

Under the Referendum Act, 50 percent of eligible voters must cast ballots for a referendum to be valid.

The opposition camp has protested the 50 percent threshold, arguing that it is unrealistically high and makes passing a referendum nearly impossible. The DPP has proposed lowering the threshold to 25 percent.

Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) also voiced his support for allowing absentee voting yesterday.

He cited the US’ use of absentee voting in major polls such as the presidential election, but added that his support for absentee voting in the referendum was contingent on there being a thorough plan for its implementation.

“The most important thing is to make all key information about the power plant transparent and available to the public, so that people can make an informed decision on the matter,” Hau said.

At the Legislative Yuan yesterday, Jiang said he would be happy to see absentee voting made available in the referendum if lawmakers agreed with the measure.

However, the premier added that the voting system should not be implemented hastily without thorough preparation.

Minister of the Interior Lee Hong-yuan (李鴻源) said he had reservations about the proposal.

Lee said that the ministry would do its best to supply the material needed for the referendum if the legislature approves the creation of an absentee voting system, he said.

However, even if the legislature sanctions the forming of an absentee voting system as early as next month, there would still not be enough time for the ministry to arrange everything needed for a referendum to be held in August, as is currently planned, Lee added.

Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) said the legislature could establish rules for absentee voting in a short time if everyone agreed with the principle of the idea.

Meanwhile, during the legislature’s question-and-answer session, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Ting Shou-chung (丁守中) asked Jiang to reconsider his decision to step down if the government loses the referendum and construction of the plant is halted.

Jiang tying his tenure to the outcome of the referendum has shifted the focus of the referendum from nuclear issues to political confrontation, and might discourage government officials from being honest about the safety of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant and how halting its construction would affect the country, Ting said.

Jiang declined DPP Legislator Chao Tien-ling’s (趙天麟) request that anti-nuclear groups receive the same amount of government funding as Taiwan Power Co (Taipower, 台電) to campaign for their views in the run-up to the referendum.

However, Jiang promised that the government would not distort the positions of anti-nuclear groups during the referendum campaign and pledged to have the groups’ arguments presented to the public correctly and in detail when the government counters their contentions.