A Cabinet-proposed referendum on the fate of the yet-to-be-completed Fourth Nuclear Power Plant is bound to take a toll on the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) whether it is passed or not, several members of the KMT Central Standing Committee said recently.
In an about-face of the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) stance on the controversy-plagued plant since 2008, Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) and his Cabinet proposed earlier this month to put the construction of the plant to a referendum that will ask the public: “Do you agree that the construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant should be halted and that it not become operational?”(你是否同意核四廠停止興建不得運轉).
Jiang has put his premiership on the line on the plebiscite amid growing anti-nuclear sentiment, saying he would resign should the construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant be halted, while Ma has yet to openly support the plant, apart from insinuating on several occasions that he is inclined to see the plant completed.
Although the wording of the referendum question has sparked accusations from opposition lawmakers that the KMT is exploiting what is perceived as the high threshold required for a referendum to succeed and of being designed to reduce the momentum of the anti-nuclear movement, several KMT members are concerned that the party could be the ultimate loser of such a referendum.
According to the Referendum Act (公民投票法), a referendum would require mobilizing more than 9.15 million people, or half the eligible voters, to vote and earn at least 4.57 million “yes” votes to pass. The relatively high threshold has meant none of the nation’s previous six national referendums have succeeded.
KMT Central Standing Committee member Yao Chiang-lin (姚江臨) said a failure of the plebiscite due to the high threshold could mean political disaster for the KMT, because it would inevitably fuel the public’s anti-nuclear sentiment and the momentum of an ongoing movement against nuclear energy.
Because of the high threshold, Yao said that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) could easily initiate what it said would be a head-on confrontation with the referendum by doing nothing and just letting the referendum fail naturally.
“By then, the rising tide of anti-nuclear momentum in the nation could by no means turn in favor of the KMT. If the DPP is to play along with the momentum, it could steamroller KMT candidates in next year’s seven-in-one elections, and even the 2016 presidential election, with ease by playing up the anti-nuclear card,” Yao said.
Since it is certain that the majority of people will continue opposing the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant regardless of the proposed referendum, “what kind of an impression would the KMT give the public then if the referendum fails as the result of the high threshold?” Yao asked.
“For the KMT, the best outcome of the proposed referendum would be success, because failure would not be a victory, but rather a disaster for the party,” Yao said, adding that anti-nuclear sentiment will only become stronger in the months ahead.
Echoing Yao’s views, a KMT Central Standing Committee member, who is also a KMT legislator and who requested anonymity, said both the passage and failure of the referendum would pose a problem for the KMT.
“Because the KMT has been known for its support for nuclear power, the referendum could backfire against the party if it really puts an end to the construction of the plant,” the member said. “However, the failure of the referendum would leave the KMT an even bigger problem if the DPP takes advantage of the anti-nuclear momentum.”
Meanwhile, KMT Central Standing Committee member Chiu Fu-sheng (邱復生) said the referendum was bound to succeed, not because of the fast-growing number of people against nuclear energy, but because of the government’s inability to safely dispose of nuclear waste.