Wed, Oct 06, 2010 - Page 3 News List

Candidates challenged on Referendum Act

GOOD TIMINGSaying elections are the best time for reform, Taiwan Thinktank plans to mail questionnaires to candidates in next month’s special municipality elections

By Ko Shu-ling  /  Staff Reporter

Taiwan Thinktank yesterday called on candidates for next month’s special municipality elections to pledge to amend the Referendum Act (公民投票法) and put controversial public issues to a vote if elected.

Saying elections were the best time for reform, Taiwan Thinktank executive director Cheng Li-chiun (鄭麗君) said she hoped candidates would agree to their requests.

Among the proposed changes, Cheng said the threshold should be lowered, the Referendum Review Committee abolished and the power to launch a referendum should not only be restricted to the -executive and legislative branches.

Under the current system, the petitioner of a referendum must gather signatures from at least 0.5 percent of the total number of eligible voters from the previous presidential election for the first phase. After the Referendum Review Committee grants initial approval to the proposal, the petitioner must then collect endorsements from at least 5 percent of the total number of eligible voters from the previous presidential election.

Once a referendum proposal can be voted on, at least 50 percent of eligible voters must cast their votes, and of them, at least 50 percent must vote “yes” for the referendum to be passed.

Cheng said the think tank hoped candidates would agree to establish a referendum-friendly environment by enacting or revising referendum bylaws to simplify the process and change the manner in which referendum proposals are reviewed.

Of the nation’s 21 counties and cities, she said only 11 had enacted referendum bylaws and most restricted the people’s right to hold referendums.

Finally, Cheng said she hoped elected candidates would put major contentious policies to a vote, provide sufficient information and allow civic forums before voters headed to the polls.

Cheng said Taiwan Thinktank would mail out the questionnaire and agreement to the candidates today and expected to receive their replies within two weeks. They would follow up with personal visits starting on Oct. 24, she said.

Max Huang (黃國昌), an assistant research fellow of law at Academia Sinica and president of Taipei Society, said he was disappointed about what he called empty promises made by Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) concerning the overhaul of the Referendum Act.

Wu had asked the Ministry of the Interior to examine the possibility of lowering the referendum threshold following complaints by the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) that it was too high.

The Referendum Review Committee has twice rejected the TSU’s petitions to hold a referendum on the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) that was signed with Beijing in June.

Chen Man-li (陳曼麗), executive director of the Homemakers’ Union and Foundation, said the thresholds were so high it was hard for a private group like hers to mount a referendum.

Her organization had launched a campaign to hold a referendum on the import of US beef, but could not collect sufficient signatures in the second stage. During the process, the administration also “expressed concern” over their plan, she said.

Taiwan Labor and Social Policy Research Association executive director Chang Feng-yi (張烽益) said his organization attempted a similar petition for workers’ pension plans, but it also failed.

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