A coalition of civil groups yesterday expressed concern that the Central Election Commission’s proposed changes to the Referendum Act (公民投票法) could restrict people’s rights and result in “a step backward for democracy.”
While they do agree with a number of changes the commission proposed last month, more could turn the law back to the “bird cage act” it once was, they told a Taipei news conference.
Before the legislature in December 2017 passed amendments to lower the legal voting age and the thresholds for initiating, seconding and passing referendums, the act was widely mocked as a “bird cage” act due to its tight restrictions.
Photo: Chu Pei-hsiung, Taipei Times
However, the amendments led to a number of execution difficulties during the Nov. 24 referendums, held on the same day as the nine-in-one elections, prompting the commission to consider more amendments.
The commission’s proposal to introduce more flexibility for determining referendum dates could lower the turnout rate for referendums, Animal Protection Administration Oversight Committee convener Wang Wei-chi (王唯治) said.
His group is “strongly opposed” to amending the law to allow holding referendums and elections on separate days whenever the commission considers that necessary, he said.
Wang is also opposed to the commission’s plan to require referendum initiators to collect hard copies of people’s identification cards in addition to signatures, saying it could make people less willing to support a proposal due to privacy concerns.
The public could also be less interested in participating in referendums if the commission limited a referendum question to 30 Chinese characters, he said.
“Many already find referendum questions difficult to understand. Adding a 30-character limit would make them even more difficult,” he said.
He agrees with the commission that a referendum proposal should undergo a longer wait period before the public can vote on it, but while the commission proposed holding the referendum three to six months after it is approved, he suggested holding it five to 12 months after the approval to allow more time for consideration and preparation.
Aletheia University associate professor of law Wu Ching-chin (吳景欽) said he is opposed to the commission’s plan to ban referendum questions on human rights, because it could grant the commission more power to sanction referendum topics.
“Human rights as a concept is very abstract and can take many different forms. In fact, almost all referendums held last year were related to human rights,” he said.
Banning anything related to human rights would be a step backward, he added.
To protect human rights, the government should enhance mechanisms for victims of unfair referendums to seek justice through the Council of Grand Justices, he said.
However, he agrees with the commission’s plan to ban campaigns on referendums on the day they are held, he said.
Under the current act, referendum campaigns can be held on the day of referendums as long as they are at least 30m away from polling stations, “but 30m is not that far and that could allow referendum initiators with more resources to influence the results,” he said.
In addition to the commission’s proposal, a number of Democratic Progressive Party legislators have put forward draft amendments to the act, Wang said, urging legislators to “watch out for traps” set by the commission to undercut progress in democracy.
Additional reporting by Ann Maxon
SPEEDING ELETRIC VEHICLES: Available without license requirements, the low-cost vehicles, especially if illicitly modified, can often reach a dangerous speed The government should crack down on illegal electric bicycles and scooters, the non-profit Consumers’ Foundation said on Friday, citing research on the potentially dangerous speed of the vehicles. Electric bicycles and lightweight electric scooters have gained popularity as they do not require registration and riders do not need licenses, the foundation said, adding that as many as 40 percent of them can reach speeds exceeding the legal limit of 25kph for non-licensed two-wheelers. Some consumers also purchased legal electric vehicles and modified them to reach higher speeds, it said. “If the government does not step up efforts to confiscate these
NEW CASE REPORTED: A man who returned from South Africa on a flight with the nation’s 460th and 461st cases has now tested positive for the disease The Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) yesterday said that there is no need to test all arrivals to the nation for COVID-19, a policy the Executive Yuan supports. The center reported one new imported case, bringing the nation’s tally of confirmed cases to 477. The new case is a Taiwanese man in his 60s who on July 25 returned from South Africa, said Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Deputy Director-General Chuang Jen-hsiang (莊人祥), who is also the CECC’s spokesman. The man had returned to Taiwan on the same flight as cases Nos. 460 and 461, reported on July 27, Chuang said. On July 24,
‘RELIABLE PARTNER’: US Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar praised the ‘Taiwan model,’ saying that the nation brought its spirit to its COVID-19 response The first memorandum of understanding (MOU) on health cooperation between the Ministry of Health and Welfare and the US Department of Health and Human Services was yesterday signed at the Centers for Disease Control in Taipei. The memorandum was signed between the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the US, by AIT Director Brent Christensen and Taiwan Council for US Affairs Chairperson Jen-ni Yang (楊珍妮). US Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar and Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) witnessed the signing of the memorandum, designed to enhance the nations’
Minister of Foreign Affairs Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) yesterday tweeted a welcome to Somaliland’s first representative to Taiwan, Mohamed Omar Hagi Mohamoud, who arrived on Friday. Mohamoud had “braved Chinese pressure” to take up his new post, Wu wrote. “The fact ‘sovereignty & friendship aren’t for sale’ deserves international recognition,” referring to a Somaliland media report earlier this month that Somaliland President Muse Bihi Abdi had rejected an offer by the Chinese government in exchange for ending its rapprochement with Taiwan. Wu also thanked the US National Security Council (NSC) for praising Taiwan-Somaliland ties. A council tweet on July 10 praised Taiwan