Presidential elections and national referendums could be “good starting points” for the implementation of an absentee voting mechanism, though it would be difficult to implement the system in the seven-in-one elections next year, Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) said yesterday.
Absentee voting would increase political participation in all elections, but the technical difficulties of implementing the system for multiple elections still need to be solved, Jiang told reporters before meeting with the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) legislative caucus yesterday.
Jiang said he supports allowing absentee voting in the national referendum on suspending the construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in Gongliao District (貢寮), New Taipei City (新北市), but stressed that preparations such as drafting absentee voting regulations, staff training and voter registration would have to be made by the Ministry of the Interior and the Central Election Commission before absentee voting is used in referendums.
Jiang added that the government would make sure the plant was safe before holding the vote.
The premier said that the Executive Yuan cannot set the timetable for the referendum unilaterally because it must be approved by the legislature, but the poll is likely to be held sometime between August and the end of this year.
“We are not in a rush to hold the referendum,” Jiang said. “The vote will not be held until all the necessary measures are in place.”
Responding to a question from TSU caucus whip Lin Shih-chia (林世嘉) on the legitimacy of deciding the fate of the power plant in a national referendum rather than a local poll in New Taipei City, Jiang said that the government respected the views of those who lived close to the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant, but that it was illegal to put a local referendum above a national one.
“We proposed a national referendum because nuclear safety is an issue that impacts everyone,” he said.
Jiang reiterated that he would gladly engage in dialogue with anti-nuclear power groups.
Separately yesterday, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairman Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) said the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) handling of the power plant issue — in particular its absentee voting initiative — raised suspicions that its moves are politically motivated.
“It seems to me that Jiang and the KMT are not dealing with the controversy using a complete set of policies, because the party has proposed something new every day,” Su said after the DPP’s weekly Central Standing Committee meeting, citing the government’s sudden desire to have absentee voting in the referendum and Jiang saying yesterday that the poll could be postponed until the end of the year when he had previously said otherwise.
Su said that the KMT’s attempt to have absentee voting in both referendums and presidential elections “further proved that there is political calculation behind its policies.”
The DPP chairman said his party would for now focus on the upcoming anti-nuclear energy demonstration on Saturday and that it was happy to be among those participating in the protest, which has been organized exclusively by anti-nuclear groups, not political parties.
Su has previously expressed DPP support for the implementation of domestic absentee voting in national referendums.
However, DPP Deputy Secretary-General Lee Chun-yi (李俊毅) said that the KMT first had to work on amending the Referendum Act (公民投票法), which is still under deliberation in the Legislative Yuan, rather than adding more variables to the equation.
DPP politicians, including former premier Yu Shyi-kun, said the KMT’s absentee voting initiative was a strategy for the 2016 presidential election as the mechanism would allow overseas Taiwanese to vote without returning to the country.
Yu said he supported domestic absentee voting, but opposed its implementation for overseas nationals, in particular Taiwanese nationals in China, who are most likely under Beijing’s influence and would seek to interfere in elections.
If the KMT wanted to include absentee voting, it should also amend referendum laws “instead of only amending the regulations that benefit the KMT,” Yu said.
DPP Legislator Yeh Yi-jin (葉宜津) warned that even if the mechanism was implemented domestically, military personnel, police and prisoners are likely to be influenced by the ruling party.
Jiang did not include referendums in a discussion of the absentee voting mechanism in 2010, when he served as the interior minister, DPP Legislator Chiu Yi-ying (邱議瑩) said.
“That suggests that the KMT’s initiative is politically motivated,” she added.