Fri, Nov 28, 2003 - Page 3 News List

New law packs no punch

By Lin Chieh-yu  /  STAFF REPORTER

In the face of opposition from the pan-blue alliance in the Legislative Yuan yesterday, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) only got a "bird-cage version of a referendum law," which deprives the people of their elementary right to exercise direct democratic mechanisms, according to political commentators.

"According to the Referendum Law (公投法)," said long-time political columnist Hu Wen-huei (胡文輝), "all constitutional issues, such as cutting the number of seats in the legislature in half, must be initiated by the Legislative Yuan, and the citizens only have the right of review.

"Other non-legal issues or constitutional amendments must go through a review committee," Hu said, "and this violates the legislative essence of referendums, resulting in an absurd situation in which the representative system overrides direct democracy."

The Presidential Office said that it respects the result but is sorry that the content of the law does not meet the Taiwanese people's expectations.

An aide to the president said that the DPP has long upheld referendum rights, and the government is well-positioned to realize its strategic target of calling a referendum for March 20 of next year, the date of the presidential election.

DPP Legislator Hong Chi-chang (洪奇昌) said that although the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and People First Party (PFP) were forced by public opinion to change their stance on the Referendum Law, the DPP is not the real winner.

He said that the US government will continue to caution President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and the DPP government against violating the "five noes." Nor can the ruling party ignore China's objections.

"The strategy of the KMT-PFP alliance," Hu said, "is to push the DPP to confront the pressure from its supporters and declare whether it will push for a unification-independence referendum."

"The pro-independence fundamentalists are not content with the Executive Yuan's defensive referendum version," he said. "What they want is the right to cast a vote for independence or unification."

"Once the article is passed," Hu said, "some will start to initiate independence-related referendums, such as changing the country's official name, and that will put the DPP and Chen in a difficult situation in dealing with the international community, especially the United States."

An initiative law is the bottom line for the KMT and PFP, two parties that have long viewed referendums as a stepping-stone to Taiwan's independence. Their purpose is to deprive people of the rights to exercise direct democracy.

"The KMT reversed [its policy] because the polls show that a majority of the voters support a referendum law and even recognize the need for constitutional reforms," said Chen Sung-shan (陳淞山), commissioner of the Cabinet's Civil Service Protection and Training Commission, who is also the chief aide in the president's legislative office.

"The Referendum Law is an initiative law because people cannot exercise their right of referendum directly. They can only hold referendums on the laws in the legislature or in the case of revising the Constitution," he said.

"Only the DPP has earned the right to claim a referendum law. The KMT and the PFP in fact have castrated and restricted the law, which in the end is a referendum law in name only," he said.

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