The Central Election Commission has not been trying to block referendum proposals by the pan-blue camp and the new Referendum Act (公投法) is no longer a “bird cage,” commission Chairman Chen In-chin (陳英鈐) said yesterday.
Before the legislature passed an amendment to lower the legal voting age and the thresholds for initiating, seconding and passing referendums in December last year, the act was widely mocked as a “bird cage” act due to its tight restrictions.
“Over the past 12 years [before the amendment], 17 proposals were made, but only four made it to the final voting stage,” Chen said. “Since the new Referendum Act took effect in January, the commission has received 14 referendum proposals in just three months and five have already passed its initial reviews.”
Photo: Fang Pin-chao, Taipei Times
The new law has helped increase public participation in politics and enhances Taiwan’s reputation, Chen added.
Several legislators questioned the commission’s neutrality, mentioning the way it handled the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) proposal to hold a referendum on banned food imports from Fukushima and other areas in Japan following the 2011 nuclear disaster, and Olympic medalist Chi Cheng’s (紀政) proposal to apply to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to compete in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics as “Taiwan” instead of “Chinese Taipei.”
The new law was designed to undo the “bird cage,” but it has only created a new cage, KMT caucus whip Lin Te-fu (林德福) said.
The commission must not censor certain referendum topics and should not have blocked the KMT’s proposal on Japanese food imports by requiring a public hearing on the issue, he said.
The proposal to compete in the Olympics as Taiwan could be unconstitutional, as Chi said the team’s name must be changed to reflect the true territory of the nation, KMT Legislator Sra Kacaw (鄭天財) said, adding that the nation’s territory is defined in the Constitution.
If such a proposal were to be passed, but rejected by the IOC, Taiwanese athletes could lose their chance to participate in the Games, he said.
The referendum proposal has passed a public hearing and is to be approved once authorities confirm the collected signatures.
Chen denied that the commission is biased against opposition parties and pro-unification groups, saying that no proposals have been rejected so far.
The KMT proposal would ask voters whether they agree to allow food imports from Fukushima and other areas that were banned after the 2011 nuclear disaster, but referendums can only be passed if enough people vote “yes,” Chen said, adding that the commission advised the initiators to rephrase the question so that voters could vote “yes,” rather than “no,” to support the initiators’ objectives, but the party refused to modify the wording.
The Olympic proposal would not involve changes to the Constitution, as it only aims to submit an application to rename the nation’s sports teams and would not require that the team not compete should the IOC reject it, Chen said.
The commission would not make any decisions based on the political leanings of referendum initiators, he said, adding: “The bird cage has been removed.”
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