It was disappointing that the result of the referendum on March 21 had been declared null and void due to the fact that less than 50 percent of all eligible voters in Taiwan voted in the referendum. Nevertheless, the referendum's significance and the role its played in the outcome of this past presidential election, in which incumbent President Chen Shui-bian (
One thing that must be made clear is that it takes much more to pass a referendum in Taiwan than getting elected into the presidency. The former requires that, of all the eligible voters in Taiwan (16.5 million), at least 50 percent (8.26 million) must vote in the referendum for it to have any legal force; and then for the referendum topic(s) to be approved, at least 50 percent of that 8.26 million have to vote yes. Since it is impossible to have a 100 percent voter turn-out -- for example, there was an around 80 percent turn-out in this past election -- it meant that much more than 50 percent of the voters who voted in the presidential election on Saturday had to also vote in the referendum for it to have any legal standing.
According to Central Election Committee (CEC) statistics, around 7.45 million people took the ballots for the first referendum topics and 7.44 million for the second topic. Both figures far exceeded the number of votes Chen garnered in the election, which was 6.47 million (ie, 50.11 percent of the votes in the presidential election). These statistics mirror at least two significant facts. First, how silly was the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT)-People First Party (PFP) alliance's argument that, assuming all people who voted for Chen voted in the referendum, the fact that Chen was re-elected but the referendum was defeated gave reasonable grounds to suspect that the Chen administration had illegally tampered with the votes in order to get him re-elected. Actually, more than one million people who did not vote for Chen participated in the referendum. Moreover, more than 91 percent of those who took part in the referendum voted yes (around 6.78 million or so) on both referendum topics, which significantly exceeded the number of people who voted for Chen. Since only two teams of candidates ran in the election, it is safe to assume that quite some people who voted for the KMT-PFP alliance presidential candidate Lien Chan (連戰) and vice presidential candidate James Soong (宋楚瑜) voted yes to these referendum topics. This shows that the topics had won the endorsement of even less radical or more moderate pan-blue supporters.
It has to be mentioned that the DPP's votes in the past have consistently been around 35 percent and never went higher than 40 percent, and yet in Saturday's election Chen managed to garner more than 50 percent of the votes. This means that around 10 percent of votes cast for Chen came from non-traditional pan-green or moderate voters. Since the referendum on Saturday had been the core of Chen's campaign platform, the referendum had helped Chen win over that key 10 percent of the votes.
The significance of these statistics is further highlighted by the strong opposition to and boycott by the KMT and the PFP of the referendum, as well as pressure from China. In particular, while China has managed to keep a relatively low profile in its efforts to meddle with Taiwan's election, it is common knowledge how much Beijing loathes Chen.
All would agree that the referendum topics should be interpreted as a symbolic gesture in declaring sovereignty, and that Chen has positioned himself -- in contrast to his election opponents -- as a defender of that position. Under the circumstances, the re-election of Chen, coupled with the election statistics, hold critical significance above and beyond the conclusion reached by the Taiwan Affairs Office in its declaration yesterday -- that efforts to provoke cross-strait instability and divide the country through the referendum have failed.
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