Sun, Apr 07, 2013 - Page 3 News List

INTERVIEW: Hau on why opinion polls better than a referendum

Following his proposal to let the fate of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in New Taipei City’s Gongliao District be decided by a public opinion poll, instead of through a national referendum, as suggested by President Ma Ying-jeou’s administration, Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin, in a recent interview with ‘Liberty Times’ (the sister newspaper of the ‘Taipei Times’) reporter Tzou Jiing-wen, called on the government to put a halt to the power plant’s construction should a majority of the public continue to lean toward suspending the project

Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin gestures during an interview with the Liberty Times on March 28.

Photo: Liao Chen-huei, Taipei Times

Liberty Times (LT): Your recent proposal to defuse the growing controversy over the construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant through a public opinion poll does not yet seem to have been embraced by the central government. What do you think the main differences between you and the government are on the issue?

Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌): I do not oppose referendums, which are a constitutional right afforded to the people and an instrument of democracy employed to make decisions on matters of public policy, particularly those that sharply divide public opinion.

The reason I proposed using opinion polls instead of a referendum is that I believe the necessity of holding a referendum, when most polls have consistently shown that the public favors halting the plant’s construction, is debatable and also because I think there are some more time-efficient ways to settle the matter.

Considering how much time is needed to propose, review and initiate a referendum, as well as how much preparatory work would be required to implement an absentee voting mechanism — which in my perspective should be established to boost voter turnout in the referendum — the plebiscite could be held no sooner than the end of this year.

As such, if information provided by Taiwan Power Co (Taipower) and the Atomic Energy Council on the plant in the coming months also fails to narrow the substantial gap between the numbers of respondents in favor of and against completing the plant’s construction, we do not have to conduct the referendum and could instead stop the construction via negotiations between the administrative and legislative branches of government.

This would be the fastest way to assuage the controversy and would also conform the most to mainstream public opnion. An intensive and constant mobilization of civil society over the matter causing conflict and unrest among the people is the last thing we want to see.

The importance of having a smooth operation of the government is supposed to outweigh that of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant. The government should refrain from devoting too much energy to one issue, because there are other important matters that need to be dealt with as well.

The central government is convinced that only a referendum could prevent the escalating controversy over the power plant from spiraling out of control, but I believe otherwise, primarily because of the threshold of 50 percent turnout that is required for a referendum to be valid.

A scenario in which more than half of the nation’s eligible electorate comes out to vote in the referendum would be easy to handle, but how is the government going to deal with the situation if the plebiscite has a voter turnout of less than 50 percent, yet more than half of those who cast their ballots voted in favor of suspending the plant’s construction?

Although the central government is inclined to handle matters related to referendums in strict accordance with the Referendum Act (公民投票法), I have reservations about whether the power plant referendum could reach the minimum turnout threshold and thus do not believe the plebiscite would resolve the issue. The government had better start preparing for the “worst-case scenario.”

LT: What is your next step in dealing with the issue?

Hau: The Taipei City Government recently published the results of a survey it conducted to gauge Taipei residents’ perspectives on the referendum and issues pertaining to the construction of the power plant.

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