Sat, Mar 20, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Ballot boycott harms Taiwan: MAC says

By Melody Chen  /  STAFF REPORTER

A low voter turnout in the referendum will damage the development of Taiwan's relationship with China, Mainland Affairs Council Vice Chairman Chen Ming-tong (陳明通) said yesterday when asked to comment on opposition lawmakers' call to boycott the referendum.

The second referendum question, which asks voters whether they want the government to establish a "peace and stability framework" with China for cross-strait interactions, had been proposed by the Mainland Affairs Council.

A low turnout will give China the opportunity to further weaken international support for Taiwan, Chen said.

"The referendum is a means of building up the public's consensus. Such an institution is indeed needed in the country's democratization process," Chen said.

Regardless of whether people vote "yes" or "no," a consensus will be reached on how to handle cross-strait affairs, but if voters simply refuse to cast ballots, the hard-earned referendum instrument will be wasted, Chen said.

Asked how the government would respond if the majority votes "no," Chen said that it would accept the result as "an expression of the people's opinions."

Chen said that if the public says no to the first question -- whether to beef up the country's anti-missile defenses -- the government would continue communicating with the people about how to defend the country.

Nevertheless, the arms purchases that have been passed by the legislature will not be revoked as a consequence of the referendum results, Chen said.

If at least half the voters cast ballots in the referendum, the mechanism to create a consensus will be established, but a smaller turnout would create the impression that the public is hesitant to back the referendum, Chen said.

"China will interpret a low referendum turnout as a sign of a lack of consensus among the people and will take advantage of it to divide the public's opinions here. It will also reduce Taiwan's bargaining power in all future negotiations with China," he said.

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