Hundreds of Ilan residents demonstrated outside the Executive Yuan yesterday, protesting the county’s decision not to allow a referendum on the Ilan International Children’s Folklore and Folkgame Festival.
Shouting slogans and displaying a banner that said the festival’s fate should be decided in a referendum, Ilan residents, including many who work in the hotel and tourism industry, called on Ilan County Commissioner Lu Kuo-hua (呂國華) to “give back the festival” or step down.
Since its debut in 1996, the festival has attracted more than 5.7 million visits. Lu canceled it in 2007 and replaced it with the Ilan International Rain Festival.
At the time, Lu said the number of visitors attending the folklore festival had been declining and that Ilan needed a new event to attract visitors.
But many Ilan residents are not happy about the decision after observing the International Rain Festival, which has been held the past two years.
“The Ilan International Children’s Folklore and Folkgame Festival was a great event that attracted a lot of people. I don’t understand the logic behind replacing it with a stupid rain festival that is pretty lousy,” said a protester surnamed Lan (藍), who said she runs a small shop near the site of the festival. “I had good business during the folk game festival, but with the small number of visitors to the rain festival, things are bad.”
Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Tien Chiu-chin (田秋堇), who led the protest, said it made no sense to dump the folklore festival.
“The folk game festival attracted more than 5.7 million visits and created an economic value of more than NT$9.2 billion [US$280 million]. It was even the only festival in Taiwan registered with UNESCO’s International Council of Organizations for Folklore Festivals and Folk Arts,” she said through a loudspeaker while standing on a truck. “If there’s a problem, you should fix it — not call the whole thing off.”
More confusing, Tien said, was a decision by the county’s referendum review committee on Tuesday to reject the petition for a referendum on whether to bring back the folklore festival.
“Referendums are the one of the most fundamental civil rights in a democracy, yet, the county government won’t even give the public the chance to voice its opinions,” Tien said, urging the Cabinet to “make things right” for Ilan residents.
The committee rejected the petition with the argument that whether to return to the folklore festival was not a major policy issue. It also said that only 49 percent — less than 50 percent — of residents did not want to scrap the folklore festival, making a referendum unnecessary.
But Tien and several Ilan politicians said Lu had pressured the committee.
Deputy Secretary-General of the Executive Yuan Chen Ching-tsai (陳慶財) accepted the petition, but declined to comment.
At a separate setting, Lu denied he had pressured the committee.
“I did not intervene in the [decision] process and I fully respect the committee’s decision,” he said.