Alexa
  • Directory of Taiwan

Only Taiwan citizens can ratify ECFA with China

Only Taiwan citizens can ratify ECFA with China

President Ma Ying-jeou's rightist Chinese Nationalist Party government can no longer evade the necessity for the controversial "Cross-strait Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement" with China to be submitted for ratification by Taiwan's 23 million citizens through a national citizen referendum.
On May 4, the Central Election Commission accepted 109,720 signatures, well over the 86,808 required, from the Taiwan Solidarity Union for its referendum petition, which would ask citizens "Do you agree or disagree with the government's signing of a 釢ross-Strait Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement' (ECFA)?"
The Referendum Review Committee, which essentially represents the KMT as the majority party in the Legislative Yuan, now has one month to certify whether the topic is a valid referendum issue under Taiwan's "bird cage" Referendum Law.
The success of the TSU, supported by the opposition Democratic Progressive Party and other Taiwan-centric civic groups, marks the second attempt to allow our 23 million citizens a chance to express their views on controversial trade pact with the authoritarian People's Republic of China, which openly aims to annex Taiwan and has deployed over 1,500 missiles and other offensive forces opposite our shores.
Besides the fact that opinion polls even in KMT-friendly media show majority backing for an ECFA referendum, the back to back success of the DPP and the TSU to collect over 100,000 signatures for the initial stage of petitioning constitutes sufficient reason for the TSU petition to enter the second stage of gathering at least 870,000 signatures.
The question now is whether the KMT - controlled RRC will dare to arbitrarily invalidate the TSU petition, as it did with the DPP petition last July, on the spurious grounds that a referendum could not be held since the proposed ECFA, which Ma has vowed will be signed by June, did not exist.
The political cost to the Ma government if the KMT - controlled RRC similarly dismisses the TSU referendum petition will be far more severe than last July.
Despite a fleeting fillip from a better than expected performance in the April 25 debate on ECFA with DPP Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen, Ma's satisfaction ratings remain mired in the 20th or low 30th percentile and voter confidence in the president is considerably lower than in Tsai.
Perhaps because Ma cannot afford the blow to voter confidence that would result if the RRC arbitrarily vetoes the TSU petition, KMT government leaders have begun to change their previous dismissive tunes.
For example, Economics Affairs Minister Shih Yen-hsiang told lawmakers Wednesday that "we must respect the will of the people and referendum is an option for the people" and acknowledged that the ECFA will be vetoed if it is unable to pass the possible referendum, which he accurately said would be an exercise of the power of "ratification."
Besides the lack of credibility of Ma's claim that the ECFA with the authoritarian PRC "only concerns economics," there are important precedents for popular ratification of free trade pacts, notably the October 2007 referendum in Costa Rica on whether to join the "United States - Central America Free Trade Agreement" and the December 1972 referendum in Switzerland to ratify a free trade agreement with the then European Economic Community.
Ironically, arguments for a ratifying referendum have been bolstered by President Ma himself, who told Taiwan reporters in Palau March 26 that the KMT government would treat the ECFA "as a treaty" and submit the full draft for legislative ratification.
However, the KMT has itself undercut the credibility of Ma's position that legislative ratification would be sufficient by its transparently anti-democratic ramming through of revisions to the Local Government Law in January without discussion.
No boycott this time
Combined with the consistent finding of opinion polls that nearly 60 percent of Taiwan citizens disapproved of the performance of KMT legislators, the ruling party's loss of seven of eight legislative by-elections this year to the DPP has invalidated any claim that Legislative approval is sufficient to represent the Taiwan public will.
Some KMT - friendly media claim that an "ECFA referendum is a waste of money" since "the referendum will be declared null and void because more than half of the eligible voters did not show up."
This rash assumption is based on the results of four previous referendums under the former DPP government that were invalidated after KMT promoted boycotts caused their failure to reach the stiff 50 percent turnout quorum.
But the proverbial shoe is now on the other foot as it will be an initialled ECFA that will be rendered "null and void" if the KMT fails to secure a 50 percent turnout and a majority of "yes" votes.
Therefore, the use of the KMT's legislative majority to impose ECFA on the Taiwan people without ratification by referendum will exacerbate social antagonisms and open the door for a challenge of the democratic legitimacy of the treaty if the DPP should win back office in 2012.
Ma and the KMT government should accept "unavoidable reality" and refrain from using the RRC to block the people's right of ratification of the ECFA.


Updated : 2021-05-12 04:55 GMT+08:00