Group urges lawmakers to revise Referendum Act

STACKED ODDS::While people wanting a referendum must collect signatures from 5% of voters, the president can propose one without needing legislative approval

By Wang Pei-lin  /  Staff Reporter

Sun, Oct 23, 2011 - Page 3

Saying the Referendum Act (公民投票法) severely curtails referendums, Nuke-4 Referendum Initiative Association chief executive Iap Phok-bun (葉博文) yesterday called for the act to be amended.

The act, enacted in 2003, has been dubbed “birdcage” legislation because of the unreasonably high threshold needed to hold a referendum.

The act stipulates that a referendum proposal, after completing a first stage whereby signatures from 0.5 percent of the number of eligible voters in the previous presidential election have been collected, must obtain approval from the Referendum Review Committee before it can proceed to the next stage, which involves collecting signatures from 5 percent of voters. It must then pass a second review before making it to polling stations.

Saying the current act limits people’s direct participation in public decisionmaking, Iap called for a lower threshold for proposal, petition and passing of referendums to give back power to the people. The Referendum Review Committee also needs to be abolished, he added.

Iap made the call in the wake of President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) announcement on Thursday that any peace pact with China would be negotiated only after voters endorsed it through a referendum, probably to be initiated by the Legislative Yuan.

“What public policy can be more important than electing the president?” Iap said. “And yet while a presidential candidate need only collect 250,000 signatures to run for president, which is only 1.5 of the total population, petitioners for referendums must collect signatures from 5 percent of the population.”

“Aside from political parties, who else can hope to achieve such a high threshold?” he asked.

If Ma truly wants to put the issue to a referendum, then he should not just play word games, Iap said, adding that under Article 17 of the Referendum Act, the president can propose a referendum, and once ratified by the Executive Yuan, the referendum can move ahead without first having to pass through the legislature.

Translated by Jake Chung, Staff Writer