Tue, Mar 16, 2004 - Page 3 News List

The winding path to a referendum

Saturday's nationwide poll marks the triumph of a long-cherished dream by advocates of Taiwan's democratization, but will the referendum be a success?

By Lin Chieh-yu  /  STAFF REPORTER

President Chen Shui-bian speaks to a group of 100 bald men at a rally in Taipei yesterday. The Chinese word for ''bald'' is homonymous with ''referendum.'' The number 100 refers to number one, which is Chen's candidate number, and two ''agree'' votes for the referendum.

TAIPEI TIMES FILE PHOTO

The process of developing a referendum law in Taiwan represents the difficult progress of the country's efforts to decolonize itself and establish an awareness of its sovereignty.

Although there is still a powerful opposition which is trying to ensure the failure of Taiwan's first nationwide referendum, many political analysts believe that the referendum on Saturday will succeed.

These analysts say the coming referendum is an important opportunity for the people of Taiwan to break the mold of partisan conflict, ethnic division, and bickering about independence or reunification.

Further, referendums could become a fundamental tool in the routine operation of Taiwan's democracy, and the major method Taiwanese adopt to handle domestic differences about cross-strait issues.

"President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) tied the referendum to the presidential election to gain a campaign advantage, but we believe that after the election, the two issues will be seperated, because the referendum has a much wider applicability in democratic processes than does a presidential election, the essence of which is conflict," said Hsu Yung-ming (徐永明), an assistant research fellow with the Institute of Social Sciences at Academia Sinica.

"The consensus brought by the referendum is greater than the conflict the elections bring, so no matter who wins the presidential election, referendums will become a common asset shared by all parties, just like the slogan `Love Taiwan [愛台灣]. Referendums will become something all parties use, promote and adopt," he said.

Hsu pointed out that if Chen won a second term, he would continue to use referendums to smooth out differences about major public policies, such as the destiny of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant, the formulation of a new constitution and deciding how the Taiwanese government interacts with China or the US.

On the other hand, Hsu said, if Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Lien Chan (連戰) wins the election, then the DPP could concentrate on using the referendum to fortify Taiwan's sovereignty without fear of international pressure as it assumed the role of an opposition party. The DPP could then monitor and prevent the pan-blue administration from getting too cozy with China.

"If Chen loses, the referendum will not be considered to be the cause of Chen's failure, because the referendum enabled Chen to close the gap in his standing in the polls in six months, from trailing by 20 percent to a race too close to call," Hsu said.

"Now the KMT and the People First Party [PFP] dare not oppose the referendum under any circumstance, as the public will keep examining Lien or Chen in the future to see whether they continue to respect the referendum," he said.

Looking back

The history of the referendum law in Taiwan parallels the experiences of other countries which had been colonized before and during World War II as the former colonials fought, either politically or physically, to achieve their country's independence. Holding a referendum on the topic of independence was even a method promoted by the UN for former colonies to determine their international status.

After Japan lost the war in 1945, Taiwan was taken over by China's KMT regime.

But after the alien regime brutally massacred thousands of Taiwanese in the 228 Incident in 1947, people became disappointed with China and its turmoil as well as the KMT government. These people had new notions about Taiwan's status as a country.

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