The government-backed referendum proposal to determine the fate of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in New Taipei City’s (新北市) Gongliao District (貢寮) yesterday cleared a hurdle in the legislature, paving the way for the plebiscite proposal to be passed in June.
In a 60 to 45 vote on the legislative floor yesterday evening, the proposal for a referendum on the question: “Do you agree that the construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant should be halted and that it not become operational (你是否同意核四廠停止興建不得運轉)?” was referred directly for a second reading.
Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) said the proposal will not be scheduled for a second reading vote until a one-month negotiation period has been concluded.
Once the proposal passes the second and third reading, the referendum is to be held no sooner than one month and no later than six months, without being subject to a screening by the Executive Yuan’s Referendum Review Committee.
The proposal, initiated by Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Lee Ching-hua (李慶華), was voted on after 44 lawmakers took to the podium in turn, with each given a four-minute slot for debate.
“Now that we haven’t been able to settle in the legislature the issue which has already confounded the country for more than 20 years, it’s time for the public to make a decision,” KMT caucus whip Lin Hung-chih (林鴻池) said.
Lin said the proposal was as neutral as it could be to make a referendum on the issue possible.
“Whether you support the plant’s continued construction or not, you should all vote in favor of the proposal,” he said.
The opposition said the KMT’s referendum question proposal amounted to “game-fixing.”
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Pan Men-an (潘孟安) said the party was opposed to the way the question was phrased, and was against a referendum being held under the “bird cage” Referendum Act (公民投票法).
The DPP refers to the law as a “bird cage,” and says that the referendum system is so structurally flawed that any referendum is doomed to fail.
According to the law, a voter turnout of more than 50 percent, or about 9.15 million, is needed for a referendum to be deemed valid, and of those who voted, at least 50 percent must vote “yes” to the question for it to be passed.
Pan said the KMT phrased the question in a negative way to take advantage of structural flaws, one of which is that “people who do not participate in the referendum are counted as supporters of the plant.”
“If the plant is to be scrapped, the Referendum Act requires that 9.15 million people to cast ballots. A president doesn't need that many voters to get elected,” DPP Legislator Yeh Yi-jin (葉宜津) said.
Opposition lawmakers slammed the KMT administration over what they said was an “evasion of responsibility” on the issue.
“Lin Hung-chih just said that the legislature is not able to decide on the issue. Why can’t we? The KMT holds a majority in the legislature. If you [the KMT] support the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant, do it in a way that is above-board. Why bother having a referendum?” DPP Legislator Pasuya Yao (姚文智) said.
Several KMT lawmakers said that putting the issue to a referendum is “the best way to end controversy.”
“I am not able to represent all my constituents, so we should leave the decision to the people,” KMT Legislator Liao Cheng-ching (廖正井) said.
Apart from Wang and Deputy Speaker Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱), who are both members of the KMT and usually take part in a vote only when there appears to be an evenly split vote, the remaining 60 of the 64 KMT lawmakers who were present at yesterday’s meeting voted for the KMT proposal.
KMT legislators Shu-lei (羅淑蕾) and Ting Shou-chung (丁守中), who are both outspoken opponents to the plant and who had broken party ranks on the issue on several previous occasions, yesterday both toed the party line.
KMT lawmakers Wang Jin-shih (王進士) and Alex Tsai (蔡正元) were absent because they were on overseas trips.
The proceedings yesterday continued at about 11am after three Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) lawmakers who were occupying the podium trying to block the session were pulled away by several KMT lawmakers.
TSU Legislator Lin Shih-chia (林世嘉) said the party demanded amendments to the Referendum Act to address its flaws, a draft of a nuclear-free homeland policy and that a proposal for a referendum for residents living within a 50km radius of the nuclear power plant to decide on the issue be directly referred to a second reading, none of which were accepted by other parties.
In response to the KMT proposal, the DPP motioned that the KMT proposal be disregarded, while the People First Party (PFP) suggested that it be referred to a preliminary review rather than directly to a second reading.
The DPP’s as well as the PFP’s counterproposals were voted down.