Wed, Feb 20, 2019 - Page 3 News List

Civic groups call for referendum reforms

By Ann Maxon  /  Staff reporter

Representatives of Covenants Watch and other social groups hold a news conference at the Legislative Yuan yesterday, calling on the government to amend the Referendum Act.

Photo: George Tsorng, Taipei Times

A coalition of civic groups yesterday urged the Legislative Yuan to prolong referendum proposals’ review periods and introduce more measures to ensure the quality of proposals.

“Referendums should facilitate public discussion on important issues, and ensure human rights and social justice, but last year’s referendums failed in both regards,” Covenants Watch convener Huang Song-lih (黃嵩立) told a news conference in Taipei.

On Nov. 24 last year, three referendums that limited LGBT rights were passed — including one intended to push for a same-sex partnership law over an amendment to the definition of marriage in the Civil Code.

The results sparked heated debate over whether there should be an additional law banning human rights issues being put to referendums and whether such referendums are constitutional.

To improve the quality of referendums, the Central Election Commission’s review period of each referendum proposal should be prolonged from 30 to 60 days to four to six months, he said.

To allow more public discussion and prevent misinformation, there should be a waiting period of six to 12 months for every referendum before its scheduled voting date, he said.

Currently, referendums can be held as soon as 28 days after they pass the commission’s final review, during which period the commission is required to host at least five debates on the referendum, he said.

“Twenty-eight days are definitely not enough. That is only enough time to spread rumors, not enough to ensure public discussion of important issues,” he added.

Requiring each referendum proposal to go through a combined 18-month period before the public can vote on it might sound like a long time, but it is relatively short compared with the time required in other nations, National Chengchi University law professor Lin Chia-ho (林佳和) said, adding that in Switzerland the process typically takes more than 40 months.

“Referendum results have the same effect as a law, but while legislators must go through a complex process to pass a law, passing a referendum is very easy,” Lin said.

To help the public make informed decisions about referendums, the government, especially the Legislative Yuan and Executive Yuan, should clearly explain each referendum’s effect and state their opinions in advance, he said.

Meanwhile, to prevent unconstitutional referendums from being held, the commission should have the option of asking the Council of Grand Justices to review referendum proposals that could be unconstitutional, he said.

Members of the public should also have the right to ask for a constitutional review by the council if they are concerned about whether a proposal is unconstitutional, he added.

Election rules on the limits and transparency of political donations should apply to donations for referendum proposals to ensure fairness, Taiwan Association for Human Rights secretary-general Chiu Ee-ling (邱伊翎) said.

An unequal distribution of resources turned last year’s referendums into “tools for manipulation by rich political parties and corporations,” she said, adding that the results reflected “democratic backsliding.”

With more referendums expected to be held next year, the Legislative Yuan should make the necessary amendments to the Referendum Act (公民投票法) by the end of this legislative session to prevent the same problems from reoccurring, she said.

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