The Executive Yuan’s proposed amendment to the Referendum Act (公民投票法) is an attempt to degrade the law and reinstate “birdcage referendums” to help the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) consolidate its governance, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislative caucus said yesterday.
The rules for referendums had been relaxed, but Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) wants them tightened again, which would undermine the act, KMT caucus whip Johnny Chiang (江啟臣) told a news conference in Taipei.
The Executive Yuan on Thursday introduced draft amendments to allow referendums to be decoupled from national elections, extend the preparation period for plebiscites and require signatories to provide a photocopy of their national identity card.
Photo: Ting Wei-chieh, Taipei Times
They would also prohibit referendums from asking questions concerning human rights, impose a word limit on questions and give each referendum a title to help people grasp the main idea.
These represent a backward step for legislative efforts to improve referendums and Su should ask veteran referendum reform advocate Lin I-hsiung (林義雄) whether he approves of the Cabinet’s proposals, Chiang said.
The motivation behind the proposed changes are the same as those behind the Executive Yuan’s nomination of former Yunlin county commissioner Lee Chin-yung (李進勇) — who has a “distinct” political leaning — as the chairman of the Central Election Commission, he said, adding that they were an attempt to consolidate power.
After being nominated commission chairman, Lee in late February issued a statement announcing that he would revoke his DPP membership amid criticism that he would not be able to uphold administrative neutrality.
KMT caucus secretary-general John Wu (吳志揚) said the proposed amendments would give the commission the ability to rig referendums.
By allowing referendums to be held separately from national elections, the DPP is attempting to grant the commission’s chairperson greater power, Wu said, adding that it obvious why it had nominated someone who would “obey the party’s will.”
Requiring people to provide their ID would not only make the initiation and endorsement process for referendums more difficult, but would also increase the risk of leaks of personal information, he said, adding that this would deepen distrust in the government.
Su said that the KMT should not distort the purpose of the proposed amendments.
Many people had to wait more than two hours at polling stations due to the sheer number of referendums held alongside the local elections last year, so the proposal to decouple plebiscites from elections is to help ease this problem, he said.
The proposal for IDs to be required is to prevent the use of signatures of deceased people, which allegedly resulted in the initiation of three referendums last year, he said.
The proposed changes would not affect the thresholds for a referendum to be initiated, endorsed or passed, so the accusation that the government is reinstating “birdcage referendums” is obfuscation, he said.
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