Wed, Jan 05, 2005 - Page 3 News List

Cabinet flipflops on referendum

AMENDMENTS Originally, the Executive Yuan had wanted to revise the Referendum Law to allow greater participation by the public. Now they want to alter the revisions

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

In what was seen as a move to allay US concerns over President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) plan to create a new constitution and put it to a referendum next year, the Executive Yuan is set to remove the people's right to initiate constitutional amendments from its proposed revisions to the Referendum Law (公投法).

If approved by the legislature, the electorate will also enjoy the right to have the final say on any changes to the nation's territorial boundaries.

The Executive Yuan is scheduled to approve the draft amendments during its weekly Cabinet meeting today and hopes to have the draft pass the legislature before the last legislative session on Jan. 21.

In December, the Executive Yuan withdrew draft amendments to the Referendum Law from its weekly agenda in the run-up to the legislative election after the US government expressed trepidation over Chen's plans to rewrite the Constitution.

According to Cabinet Spokesman Chen Chi-mai (陳其邁), the Executive Yuan had a legitimate reason to remove the people's right to initiate amendments to the Constitution from its original proposal.

"The procedure of constitutional overhaul should be regulated by the Constitution, not by the Referendum Law," he said. Chen also dismissed media speculation that the legal revisions were made to counter China's "anti-secession law."

"The amendments are being made to regulate the exercise of people's democratic rights, and have nothing to do with political ideology or Taiwan's independence," he said.

The draft the Cabinet intends to discuss today would lower the threshold of required signatories of a petition for a national referendum to 0.05 percent of eligible voters, or about 8,000 people. The law currently stipulates that a successful referendum petition needs 0.5 percent of eligible voters -- about 80,000 people.

The law also requires that signatures of 5 percent of the number of voters who took part in the most recent presidential election, or approximately 800,000 people, are needed before a petition for a national referendum can be screened by the Referendum Review Committee.

The Executive Yuan hopes to lower this figure to 2 percent, or about 300,000 voters, to petition for a national referendum. The government is also seeking to abolish the Referendum Review Committee (公投審議委員會), established under the law to provide a method of screening referendum topics. The Cabinet argues that the committee runs counter to the spirit of direct democracy.

As the Executive Yuan is in charge of national referendums, the government is proposing to allow the Central Election Commission (CEC) and its branch offices to handle national referendum affairs.

While the government is prohibited from proposing or commissioning a referendum, except on the statutory grounds stipulated in the law, the Cabinet is seeking to obtain the power to do so.

The draft proposes that the Executive Yuan would have the right to ask the CEC to initiate a referendum, pending the approval of the legislature.

The Executive Yuan also proposes nullifying the article that prevents people from initiating more than one referendum on the same topic within three years if initial referendum fails to win the support of the public.

Wu Chien-kuo (吳建國), director of the Association of Promoting a Referendum on the No. 4 Nuclear Power Plant, said that the threshold for the number of required signatures on a petition proposed by the Executive Yuan is still too high.

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