The Referendum Review Committee is set to deliver a verdict tomorrow on the validity of a referendum question asking voters whether they agree with the government's plans to sign an economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) with China.
Opposition parties, including the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU), have rallied behind the question, saying that a public vote is essential before President Ma Ying-jeou's (馬英九) administration can move forward on the controversial trade agreement.
A number of senior government officials, however, have said that the referendum is unnecessary as an ECFA would have to be ratified by the legislature before it becomes valid. The proposed pact could be signed this month.
They added that the committee should turn down the proposal because it did not fit the criteria of the Referendum Act (公民投票法).
Speaking at a public hearing on Friday, Mainland Affairs Council Deputy Minister Chao Chien-min (趙建民) said that an ECFA was an economic agreement touching on taxation and tariff issues — which under the act cannot be subject to a public vote.
At a press conference yesterday, the TSU called on the committee to deliver the verdict in an impartial manner and raised concerns about government interference affecting the final decision.
A similar proposal by the DPP was rejected by the committee last year after it ruled that the referendum question was based on a hypothetical situation that did not meet the Referendum Act’s criteria.
“The Taiwanese government has for the past year been pushing for this ECFA with China as an important national policy. Despite multiple negotiations, the government still has not disclosed the content of the agreement,” TSU Chairman Huang Kun-huei (黃昆輝) said.
“This has created many unanswered questions for the public. Under the circumstances, we think that only through a referendum can we resolve this deeply controversial issue,” he said.
Huang said that the president has repeatedly called the proposed ECFA “a piece of national policy,” which would qualify it for a plebiscite under Section 2 of the Referendum Act.
Former vice president Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) said that if an ECFA were to be signed and became valid without first holding a public vote, “it would be an offense against democracy.”
“The [committee] cannot take away the people's basic rights to decide on such an important piece of national policy. It should not be signed without public consent,” Lu said.
Former presidential adviser Koo Kwang-ming (辜寬敏) also expressed concern that an ECFA would be a stepping stone for unification with China.
The referendum proposal, which has so far received near 200,000 petitions, was initiated in February. Party officials say they hope that the referendum can be put to the ballot box as early as Nov. 27, together with the special municipality elections.