Fri, Jan 12, 2007 - Page 3 News List

Discussion on changing Referendum Law turns violent

HOT POTATO A shouting match between pan-blue and pan-green lawmakers over how to handle seven draft amendments became a physical struggle for dominance

By Max Hirsch  /  STAFF REPORTER

A legislative committee meeting turned violent yesterday after pan-blue and pan-green lawmakers locked horns over whether to continue discussing proposed amendments to the Referendum Law (公民投票法).

Pan-green draft amendments to the law seek to preserve the president's constitutional right to initiate a "defensive referendum" during a national emergency.

Pan-blue draft amendments, on the other hand, seek to require that any presidential order to hold such a referendum be endorsed by the Legislative Yuan within 10 days of its issuance.

President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) had initiated a nationwide referendum on March 20, 2004 -- the same day as the last presidential election.

Asking voters whether China should remove its missiles targeting Taiwan and whether it should negotiate with China in fostering cross-strait peace, the referendum was widely seen as a flop because a voter turnout below 50 percent invalidated the results.

The pan-blue camp has slammed Chen for using the referendum to shore up support for his re-election bid and manipulate the 2004 presidential election.

"What countries aside from Taiwan allow its president to hold a referendum on a whim?" Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Ting Shou-chung (丁守中) asked Vice Minister of the Interior Lin Mei-chu (林美珠) during yesterday's Home and Nations legislative committee meeting.

Plugging the Cabinet's draft amendment, which also seeks to preserve the president's authority to call a snap referendum, Lin replied that Taiwan's "special situation" vis-a-vis China justified the need for such a presidential power.

"Only our country is threatened in such a way by China," Lin said.

Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) Legislator David Huang (黃適卓) said that "when our sovereignty is threatened by China, referendums are necessary to protect the nation."

Huang added that referendums promoted solidarity in the face of an outside threat, while allowing leaders to gauge the fears and needs of the people before formulating policies to safeguard national interests.

Pan-blue lawmakers disagreed.

"President Chen Shui-bian [陳水扁] used a referendum to hijack the presidential election, which he sealed with two bullets," People First Party (PFP) Legislator Feng Ting-kuo (馮定國) said. "We're worried that such referendums will be used to influence future elections, which is why we want to have the legislature weigh in on such decisions."

A shouting match between pan-green and pan-blue lawmakers then erupted over the procedures involved in hashing out seven different draft amendments to the Referendum Law.

What was originally a verbal clash quickly took a turn for the physical when DPP legislator Kao Chien-chih (高建智) snatched the KMT's draft amendment from KMT Legislator Chu Fong-chi (朱鳳芝).

Kao taunted Chu by holding it over the KMT lawmaker as she jumped up in an attempt to snatch it back. Kao then passed the crumpled bill off to DPP Legislator Jao Yung-Ching (趙永清) like a hot potato.

At that point, Chu tackled Jao and both hit the floor with a thud that shook the room.

DPP Legislator Hsieh Hsin-ni (謝欣霓) then suggested that the pan-blue camp was averse to snap referendums because it feared the president might hold one on the KMT's allegedly stolen assets, and both pan-green and pan-blue legislators rushed the committee chairman's table.

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