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Ma is wrong on ECFA referendum in Taiwan

Ma is wrong on ECFA referendum in Taiwan

Since beginning to push for a controversial "cross-strait economic framework agreement" with the authoritarian People's Republic of China, President Ma Ying-jeou and his Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) administration have firmly and repeatedly rejected the possibility of ratification of the proposed pact by national citizen referendum.
The president and KMT government spokespersons have justified this stance on the grounds that the ECFA will "only concern economics" and not impinge on "sovereignty" and maintain that "almost no countries ratify FTAs by referendum."
However, while such agreements are normally subject to parliamentary ratification, there are important counter-examples, notably the December 1972 referendum which ratified a FTA between the Swiss confederation and the then European Economic Community.
The Swiss example is particularly salient to Taiwan's proposed ECFA with the PRC as the Swiss federal government decided to take the legally unnecessary step of submitting the pact to the Swiss people as a "mandatory referendum" precisely because it "was the first vote on European integration."
Asked about the relevance of this case to citizen calls for a referendum on the proposed ECFA in a news conference in Palau March 26, Ma said he was unaware of the 1972 Swiss referendum, but nevertheless dismissed it by saying that "Switzerland is a special country which has the most referendums to decide even the smallest matter."
Ma also stated that "a democratic society should adopt a representative system and not give over every issue to referendums to decide" and said the ECFA would be treated as a treaty and submitted to the Legislative Yuan for ratification.
With this discourse, President Ma manifested an unfortunate lack of familiarity with the Swiss political system and the theory and practice of direct democracy.
First, Switzerland does not "decide everything, big or small" by referendum but has a functioning "representative democratic system" in which direct democratic mechanisms, including mandatory and optional referendums and initiatives, complement the work of its Parliament.
Moreover, the decision by the Swiss federal government to submit the FTA signed with the EEC on July 22, 1972 for a "mandatory referendum" was not a "routine" action but constituted the conscious adoption of a "higher standard" because of the potential impact of the FTA on Switzerland's economic and political and social future.
Moreover, the Dec. 3, 1972 referendum marked another break with the past as it was the first time that the Swiss government provided each and every Swiss citizen with a pamphlet outlining the issues, including the content of the FTA and detailed descriptions of arguments for and against approval, to ensure an "informed" decision by the electorate.
This confidence in the Swiss citizenry paid in a resounding 71.5 percent popular vote majority and approval by all 23 cantons.
But the salience of this case for the Taiwan - PRC "cross-strait ECFA" lies both in the principle that the people should have a say in a pact that promises to have major impacts on our economic, social and political future and the differences in the two cases.
After all, the Swiss government decided to call a ratifying referendum on an FTA with another entity with shared democratic values and a free economy that posed absolutely no "security risk" or military threat.
The people's Swiss defence
On the contrary, the PRC's authoritarian Chinese Communist Party regime does not share Taiwan's democratic values or free economic system and directly threatens our existence with the deployment of over 1,500 missiles and other offensive forces opposite our shores.
Sadly, the Ma administration has chosen to treat Taiwan's democracy as an obstacle even though the requirement for ratification by national citizen referendum would turn Taiwan's democracy and openness into a major bargaining advantage as any ECFA that did not clearly and tangibly benefit the overwhelming majority of the Taiwan people would not stand chance of passage.
However, even opinion surveys by KMT - friendly agencies show that most Taiwan voters perceive the advantage of ratification by referendum, especially given the dismal lack of public confidence in the capability of the KMT - controlled Legislative Yuan to substantively review the proposed ECFA.
A survey of 1,005 Taiwan adults conducted late last month by the TVBS cable television network found that only 35 percent approved of the ECFA with the PRC, down 11 percentage points from last October, with 32 percent opposed and 33 percent undecided.
Moreover, the TVBS survey found that 54 percent agreed that there should be a referendum before the pact is signed, compared to 48 percent in October, while only 25 percent agreed with Ma's rejection of an ECFA referendum, down 11 percentage points from October with 21 percent undecided.
If the Swiss federal government believed that it was necessary to submit the FTA with a democratic and friendly EEC for ratification by referendum to be responsible to its citizens, the argument for the use of the "Swiss defence" for the ECFA with an authoritarian and hostile PRC to be submitted for ratification by the 23 million Taiwan people is indeed "heavier than Mount Tai."


Updated : 2021-08-01 22:46 GMT+08:00