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By Cheng Li-chiun 鄭麗君 Font Size:  | Print | Tag: Facebook Twitter Plurk Funp
Cheng Li-chiun (鄭麗君):Time is ripe for referendum reform

Minister of the Interior Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) recently said that the Cabinet is looking into the possibility of lowering the threshold for referendums. The fact that the Cabinet is discussing this issue offers an opportunity to press for reform.

It must be pointed out that the Referendum Act (公民投票法) not only fails to provide an avenue for direct democracy, which is guaranteed by the Constitution, but it places numerous obstacles in the way. The law’s defects are such that national referendums have to surmount a great number of hurdles, and these same obstacles are replicated in local government provisions for holding referendums on local issues.

These laws and regulations are wrong on a local and national level. They are legal shackles that tie down the public’s right to take decisions into their own hands. These laws need to be thoroughly revised, and the sooner this is done, the better.

Only one referendum proposal has been passed since the Act became law. This was for a vote on casinos on Penghu that only got through because the legislature decided that the Act did not apply. When the Democratic Progressive Party was in government, some referendum proposals initiated by the president and by public petition were put to a vote, but they all failed because the number of people who voted did not reach the required threshold.

Article 30 of the Act says that the number of people voting in a referendum must be at least 50 percent of all eligible voters, otherwise it will automatically be considered a “no” vote. Considering that there is no such requirement for elections for president or any other office, this threshold should be abolished.

In addition, the Act in reality only protects the right of powerful people — the president and the legislative majority in certain cases — to initiate referendums, while setting excessive thresholds for initiatives launched by the general public.

Article 10 of the Act says that the number of signatures for a national referendum proposal must be at least five out of every 1,000 eligible voters, which in Taiwan is about 90,000 people. In the second stage of the endorsement process, the proposers have to gather signatures from 5 percent of the electorate — about 900,000 people — within six months in order for the referendum to go ahead.

When compared with the much lower number of -signatures — 200,000 — required for an independent candidate to stand in a presidential election, it becomes clear that this rule is meant to make things difficult for the public. A referendum on US beef imports proposed by the Consumers’ Foundation fell apart at the second stage for this very reason.

The threshold number of signatures for proposing a referendum should be lowered and consideration should also be given to allow government departments and minority parties in the legislature to initiate referendums.

The US beef referendum proposal is not the only one to have failed since the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) returned to power. Several attempts by members of the public to propose a referendum on the government’s cross-strait Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement were rejected by the Cabinet’s Referendum Review Committee.

This committee consists of 21 people appointed by the government in accordance with Article 35 of the Referendum Act. This is the most unreasonable condition imposed by the act, as it allows those wielding authority to manipulate the process and determine whether a referendum can go ahead or not. For that reason, it should be abolished.

Next month’s elections in the soon-to-be five special -municipalities are almost upon us. It has come to light that 11 counties and cities in Taiwan have set up their own regulations for conducting local referendums, and they all copy the same system that exists at the national level, with high thresholds for initiating referendums, gathering signatures and for the number of people who must take part in the final vote.

They also all require referendum proposals to be approved by referendum review committees. For example, a proposal for a referendum on reviving the Yilan International Children’s Folklore and Folkgame Festival proposed by people living in Yilan County, was rejected by a referendum review committee appointed by the KMT county government.

At the end of this year, when existing cities and counties are merged and upgraded to form four new special municipalities, these places will have to re-establish their regulations for holding referendums. The new municipal governments should respond positively to popular demand for reform by establishing progressive conditions for holding referendums. That would enable referendum democracy to take root at the local level and be implemented in people’s daily lives.

Cheng Li-chiun is chief executive officer of Taiwan ThinkTank.

TRANSLATED BY JULIAN CLEGG

出處:10月 4日台北時報http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/editorials/archives/2010/10/04/2003484485/1
2010-10-06
   
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