Taiwanese are to vote in at least nine referendums alongside the nine-in-one elections on Nov. 24, but that does not mean the referendum results will necessarily be implemented, two legal experts said.
The referendums cover a broad range of issues, from the definition of marriage in the Civil Code and maintaining a ban on food imports from five prefectures in Japan imposed following the 2011 Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear disaster to changing the national sports team’s name from “Chinese Taipei” to “Taiwan” for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games and other international events.
At least one-quarter of eligible voters need to vote in favor of a proposal — and outnumber “no” votes — for it to pass, according to the Referendum Act (公民投票法), following amendments in December last year, when the threshold was lowered.
Photo: Peter Lo, Taipei Times
A referendum’s outcome is legally binding if it passes the threshold, Central Election Commission spokesperson Chen Chao-chien (陳朝建) said on Monday.
According to the act, if a law is repealed in a referendum, it would lose its effect on the third day after its result is officially announced by the commission.
If a referendum result calls for the enactment of new legislation, the government must submit a proposal no later than three months after the vote and the Legislative Yuan must complete its review before the next summer or winter break, the act says.
If the result of a referendum requires a change in policy, the president or the relevant authority must take steps to implement the result, the act states.
However, implementing referendum results might not be the responsibility of any government agency or official, because the act does not have compulsory enforcement clauses, the experts said.
Bruce Liao (廖元豪), an associate professor of law at National Chengchi University, said that the law does not give the public the power to directly enact legislation without action by the legislature.
Regarding referendums on policy change, the government is obliged to carry out the will of the electorate, but little can be done if government agencies fail to see a measure through, he added.
Two referendums put forward by groups opposed to same-sex marriage ask people whether they agree that marriage should be restricted to a union between a man and a woman, as stipulated in the Civil Code, and whether the protection of the rights of same-sex couples should be protected without changing the marriage regulations in the Civil Code.
A referendum question proposed by gay rights advocates asks voters whether they agree that the marriage regulations in the Civil Code should be applied to same-sex couples to guarantee their right to marriage.
The Council of Grand Justices in May last year struck down the Civil Code’s marriage regulations as unconstitutional, saying that the provisions do not allow same-sex couples to enter into permanent unions, thus violating their freedom of marriage and right to equal treatment.
The council presented the government with a two-year deadline to address the matter.
Academia Sinica associate research fellow Chiou Wen-tsong (邱文聰) said that if the proposal against gay marriage is passed, it would not affect the constitutional interpretation because of the supremacy of the Constitution, but it would complicate the process for legalizing same-sex marriage.
Opponents of gay marriage have advocated passing a special law to meet the council’s demand, rather than amending the Civil Code — a solution that gay rights groups have said would be discriminatory.
If both anti-gay marriage referendums were to pass, the groups that deem a special law discriminatory would have to seek another constitutional interpretation, Chiou said.
As for the proposal seeking to change the national sports team’s name, Chiou said that if the referendum passes, the government should try to negotiate with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in accordance with the public mandate.
The government might be criticized for violating the act or be censured by the Control Yuan if it does not try to renegotiate its agreement with the IOC, but that does not mean that it must follow through on the result at all costs, Liao said.
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