Sat, Jan 01, 2005 - Page 3 News List

Top 10 Taiwan Stories: Nationwide referendum held

By Joy Su  /  STAFF REPORTER

The nation marked a historical moment this year when it held its first national referendum in March. The referendum, held in conjunction with the presidential election, asked voters two questions: whether the country should strengthen its self-defense capabilities in the face of China's missile threat, and whether the government should hold talks with Beijing to establish a peaceful framework for cross-strait interactions.

While the government touted the "advisory referendum" as an important tool for the people to voice their concerns on cross-strait tensions, neither referendum question managed to garner more than half of the population's ballots, required for the results to be considered valid. Some 45.17 percent of eligible voters -- roughly 7.45 million people -- cast ballots on the first question, while the second question, on relations with China, received 45.12 percent of the vote. The majority of those who cast ballots voted in favor of the proposals.

With the pan-blue camp strongly opposed to the referendum, there was heated debate over its legality. The Referendum Law (公民投票法) gives the president the power to call a referendum in the event of a threat to national security, and the ruling party argued that the cross-strait situation amounted to such a threat. Critics of the March 20 referendum accused President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) of electioneering and said that holding the referendum in tandem with the presidential election made it undermined the value of both the referendum and the election.

Furthermore, China responded to the referendum with hostility, viewing it as a prelude to a future vote on Taiwan's independence. However, referendums have since become an important part of the nation's democratic vocabulary, with several local governments subsequently holding small-scale referendums on controversial issues.

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