Tue, Mar 09, 2004 - Page 4 News List

Chen confident of referendum turnout

BANK ON IT The president says DPP polls have shown at least 50 percent of voters will take part in the referendum, which will make it valid -- and that he will win re-election

REUTERS , TAIPEI

President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) is confident that his referendum proposals, which have enraged arch-foe China, will meet the 50-percent participation threshold needed to make them valid, a magazine reported yesterday.

Chen has closely tied his campaign for re-election to the contentious referendum questions, which will ask whether Taiwan should increase its defenses against the nearly 500 Chinese missiles aimed at Taiwan and if the foes should open talks. Beijing sees the ballot as a dry run for a future vote on independence, which it says could lead to war.

In an interview with Wealth magazine published yesterday, Chen said an opinion poll by his Democratic Progressive Party found that more than 50 percent of voters would support the referendum and that he would win a second four-year term.

"The referendum will definitely pass the 50-percent mark," Chen told the magazine.

"As long as we are on the right side of history, more people will come out and support it despite some confusion and doubts," he said.

A weekend public opinion poll by the China Times found that 37.6 percent of 3,391 voters polled would not pick up a referendum ballot.

The referendum will be rendered void if fewer than 50 percent of voters fill out a referendum ballot. Merely picking up the ballot will count as participating; filling out the ballot is not necessary.

Chen said Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Lien Chan (連戰) will damage his chances in the closely fought election if his party by boycotting the referendum.

"If you reject the referendum today, you will eventually be rejected by the people," Chen said.

Lien, who has said he will not vote in the referendum, has avoided calling for a boycott lest the move be labelled anti-democratic. But the KMT has begun airing television advertisements urging voters to refuse to cast referendum ballots.

Chen told the magazine he would be re-elected with more than 50 percent of votes this time.

Chen said that China, after ignoring him for four years, would have no choice but to deal with him if he wins a second term.

"I will not sell out the people. But there are areas where I can be flexible," Chen said.

"Communist China can wait four years, but it can't wait eight years," Chen said.

Lien has presented himself as the man to solve the nation's economic problems and said in an interview with the same magazine that the country could not afford to waste time on political squabbles.

Favoring a more conciliatory policy toward China, Lien has said Taiwan must transform itself into a free-trade zone to counter China's growing economic might.

"We are small so we can't confine ourselves and lock ourselves out," he told the magazine.

"China is such a big market and manufacturer. Everyone is making money there except for us," he said.

"It can be a win-win situation," Lien said.

Lien has called for a free-trade zone with China, saying economic integration would lead to political rapprochement.

By contrast, Chen says Taiwan will lose its bargaining power in political negotiations with China if it becomes too economically dependent on China. Taiwanese companies have poured an estimated US$100 billion into China since the 1980s.

Lien has called for hundreds of thousands of supporters to join nationwide rallies on Saturday to protest Chen's four-year rule and demand better relations with China.

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