Tue, Sep 29, 2009 - Page 3 News List

ANALYSIS: Analysts say referendum highlights problems

By Shih Hsiu-Chuan  /  STAFF REPORTER

“Media reports that conglomerates’ plans to build hotels, resorts and the like were under way created an impression that the referendum was going to pass but it was not accurate. A number of opinion polls over the years showed quite different results,” he said.

Yeh said that the difficulty in weighing up the pros and cons of casinos was a major reason casino advocates contended that the threshold be scrapped.

Another procedural justice concern arose when anti-gambling activists said that the administration did not remain neutral in the organizing of the referendum.

“Before a major policy is voted upon, the government should let the public know how it will influence people, its advantages and disadvantages. But in this case, the government saw the opening of casinos as a fait accompli, publishing booklets and using other means to promote their benefits,” Yeh said.

The Penghu County Government also held public hearings in all its 36 villages, townships and cities ahead of the vote as required by the Referendum Law.

However, it was not until the 14th hearing that the opposition had a chance to speak after Wu Hsun-lung (吳巡龍), a Penghu prosecutor, protested that the government had ignored dissenting voices.

“From the first to the 13th hearings, all the public hearings started with a half-hour presentation by the Penghu County Government in support of casinos followed by two people from the affirmative side, a total of more than one hour. I raised an objection at the 14th hearing. After that, opponents were allowed to give an opinion, but just for five minutes,” Wu said.

Wu’s behavior drew the ire of Lin Pin-kun (林炳坤), a five-term independent lawmaker in the county and casino advocate.

On Sept. 18 at the question-and-answer session in the legislature, Lin criticized Wu, saying it was “inappropriate” for a prosecutor to speak out against casinos, and demanding Minister of Justice Wang Ching-feng (王清峰) look into the matter.

Wang at first sympathized with Lin, but then came to Wu’s defense after learning that his participation occurred when he was off duty.

Wu’s case was not isolated and showed how influential locals tried to manipulate public opinion in favor of casinos and had been intolerant of the anti-gambling movement.

“There was not even one article against casinos published in the opinion pages of the Penghu Times and the Penghu Daily … Penghu Cable TV even made me a target for its attacks,” Wu said, referring to the county’s main media sources, which are all affiliated with business groups or politicians.

Yen Chiang-lung (顏江龍), a 28-year-old serving his alternative military service in the county, said the government hadn’t adressed residents’ concerns about casinos.

“That way, when we appeared to cast ballots, we were like patients unable to decide whether to have surgery because we were not told about the risks involved,” Yen said.

Since the Act passed the legislature in January, the government had said that it would propose a complete set of complementary measures on casino management, dealing with tax revenue generated by casinos, feedback funds and job opportunities for Penghu residents, as well as how to prevent deterioration of public order and safety by the end of the year.

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