Mon, Nov 17, 2008 - Page 3 News List

INTERVIEW: Kaohsiung teachers to battle on

A referendum on decreasing the class sizes in Kaohsiung City’s elementary and junior high schools failed on Saturday. Chairman Yu Chu-cheng of the Kaohsiung Teachers’ Association (KTA), which started the referendum, sat down with Taipei Times staff reporter Flora Wang and talked about what could have caused the defeat

By Flora Wang  /  STAFF REPORTER

Taipei Times: You previously said the KTA planned to continue to push the agenda; could you elaborate?

Yu Chu-cheng (于居正): We are going to improve how we approach the issue. The Referendum Law (公民投票法) stipulates that we are unable to propose a similar referendum within three years. We will improve our strategy in communicating the issue to parents. We are likely to push the agenda by lobbying city councilors to increase the government budget reserved for education.

Although we suffered defeat in this referendum, the issue touched everyone’s hearts, regardless of their stance on the matter. The referendum also showed people that we should care more about our next generation.

Many city councilors have called us to offer their encouragement and promised to push the issue for us in the city council. This is wonderful because they never discusse issues like this with us. Although the outcome of the referendum was unsatisfactory, we were still pleased because the bid was meaningful. More than 90 percent of the people who voted on the referendum agreed with the need [to reduce the number of students in a class]. With such strong public support, we will continue to push the agenda.

TT: The turnout of the referendum was 5.35 percent. How do you feel about that? Do you think it could be because the public is too used to discussing political issues while ignoring public policy issues?

Yu: Many factors could have contributed to the low turnout. First of all, the city government urging people to vote against the referendum in the election commission’s official announcement of the referendum had something of a negative impact on the outcome. Also, many borough chiefs failed to issue voting notices to residents. Without the notices, people didn’t know which voting station they should go to. The election commission, as an impartial government agency, should have carried out its responsibility by distributing the notice to every single voter.

I think people are interested in the topic of this referendum. As long as they have children, they will be interested.

But the problem was that it was not held simultaneously with major national elections.

Many people were unclear about the referendum question. If it had been held with major national elections, more voters would have cast their referendum ballots while voting in the elections. It would have had more exposure. As an independent civic group, we did not have any access to major promotion channels. The decrease in the number of voting stations — from some 800 to 300 stations — might have also influenced the outcome, because it made voting inconvenient.

We made a lot of efforts to schedule the referendum on the same day as the legislative or presidential election. We collected the 50,000 signatures required for the second legal threshold of the referendum within two months after passing the first threshold. We urged the election commission to speed up its review process, but the process was still very slow and we could not do anything about it.

I think the Referendum Law should be amended so that an independent organization is responsible for reviewing the signatures. The election commission is not an independent government branch because it depends on the city government for its budget.

Although we asked the election commission to increase the number of voting stations, the commission declined and complained of a limited budget. I felt very discouraged [when hearing this] because people had made such an effort [to gather enough signatures for the referendum]. I felt that we were all alone when pushing the referendum.

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