Tue, Oct 14, 2003 - Page 3 News List

Referendum OK before law: Chen


President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) yesterday said that would not be necessary to pass a referendum law before initiating a reform of the Constitution by referendum.

"Not all countries draw up a law before putting a referendum into practice," he said, "Therefore, many countries often leave it to a people's referendum to decide whether to pass or amend a constitution."

"It is very clear that it is not necessary for such practices to be based on the legislation of a referendum law," he said.

He made the comments when he met academics and other experts from the US, Germany, Switzerland and Sweden who are in Taipei for the three-day International Symposium and Roundtable on Initiatives, Referendums and Direct Democracy.

Chen reiterated to his guests his determination to launch a campaign to draft a new constitution that fits the needs of the people by 2006.

He said that a referendum is the most direct example of democracy and has become a part of life in Western countries.

In Taiwan, however, he said referendums have become a taboo issue and the subject of polarizing debate.

"Taiwan accomplished its first ever political rotation in 2000 and built the foundation for democracy more than 200 years after that of the US," Chen said, "We cherish what we have and our next step is to aggressively push for a referendum and to deepen our democracy."

"We know that the power of the nation comes from the people," he said, before noting that one of the academics at the forum had argued that if a legislature recognizes that the legislation for a referendum law is necessary but postpones passage of such a law, the people have the right to decide by referendum whether they want a referendum law and what kind of law they want.

"The people's right to referendums is above the legislation of representative democracy," he said.

Chen said that a referendum is an exercise in direct democracy and it can be supplement insufficiencies in a representative democracy.

"Referendum is a global value and a basic human right," he said, "People should not be deprived of it or be constrained from getting it."

However, most members of the Central Election Commission believe that if a national referendum is to be held alongside next year's presidential election, a legal basis for the referendum would be desirable, according to the commission's chairman.

Huang Shih-cheng (黃石城) made the comment at the Legislative Yuan yesterday after lawmakers asked about the Democratic Progressive Party's proposal to hold a nationwide referendum together with March 20 election.

The commission needs a legal basis to budget for and carry out a referendum, Huang said.

When asked whether it would be illegal for the commission to hold a referendum without a legal basis, Huang declined to answer.

"We won't do anything illegally," he said.

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