Panel has no mandate for referendum debate: DPP

BOUNDARIES: The DPP said the Executive Yuan’s referendum screening panel was trying to ‘expand its power’ using a debate on the party’s ECFA referendum proposal

STAFF WRITER, WITH CNA

Sat, Aug 08, 2009 - Page 3

The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) yesterday questioned a Ca­binet panel’s mandate to hold a debate on whether a proposed trade pact with China should be put to a national referendum.

DPP Spokesman Cheng Wen-tsang (鄭文燦) said that although the Executive Yuan’s referendum screening panel, in compliance with the Referendum Act (公民投票法), was authorized to determine whether a proposed economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) between Taiwan and China can be put to a popular vote, the panel was not empowered to host a debate on the issue.

The 21-member screening panel said on Thursday that it would sponsor a public hearing on Aug. 18 to discuss the DPP’s initiative on asking voters to decide if a referendum should be held on the proposed ECFA.

The panel said it would invite officials from the Ministry of Economic Affairs, including Minister Yiin Chii-ming (尹啟銘), DPP representatives such as DPP Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and a panel of experts to debate the agreement’s pros and cons in a public hearing.

The panel will decide on Aug. 27 whether the DPP’s referendum proposal meets the criteria laid out in the Referendum Act.

Cheng accused the panel of trying to “expand its power” to by organizing a public hearing.

He said that while the Referendum Act barred questions related to budgets, taxation, investment, salaries and government personnel from being posed in a referendum, the proposed agreement, which could affect the domestic job market and people’s livelihoods, did not fall into those categories and therefore could be put to a popular vote.

The DPP filed an application with the Central Election Commission (CEC) on July 20 to hold a referendum on the proposed pact with China. The party’s petition must be approved by the CEC screening panel before it can progress to the next stage, in which it will need to obtain the signatures of at least 850,000 eligible voters for the referendum to be held.

Ministry estimates show that GDP could fall by 0.176 percent if the two sides fail to sign an ECFA by Jan. 1 next year, when the “ASEAN plus one” trade bloc — comprised of ASEAN member states and China — is established.

Not signing an ECFA could also drive down Taiwan’s annual exports by 0.421 percent, reduce imports by 0.601 percent and cut the trade surplus by US$180 million, the ministry estimated.

The DPP, however, has said that an ECFA between Taiwan and China would compromise Taiwan’s sovereignty and job market.