Taiwan Cabinet rejects lower threshold for nuclear referendum

Government considers absentee voting, premier invited to report

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – The government said Tuesday it was considering absentee voting but not lowering the threshold for participation in the nuclear referendum.
The Legislative Yuan also agreed Tuesday to invite Premier Jiang Yi-huah to deliver a report about the fourth nuclear plant on March 8, on the eve of nationwide anti-nuclear rallies.
The decision followed discussions about the most effective way to hold a referendum about the future of the contested Gongliao, New Taipei City, plant expected in July or August.
The opposition Democratic Progressive Party has condemned the government for holding on to the existing high threshold for referendums to succeed. At present, at least 50 percent of eligible voters need to cast their ballot before a result is accepted. The DPP has accused the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou of designing the referendum question in such a way that an insufficient number of ballots would lead to the continuation of work on the nuclear plant.
The Cabinet said Tuesday it would not present its own amendments to the Referendum Act, in effect rejecting DPP demands to lower the threshold. The opposition has rallied around a proposal by its legislator Yeh Yi-jin to allow a voter turnout of at least 25 percent to be sufficient for the referendum result to be accepted. Jiang has said the threshold should not be lowered too far, though he has failed to mention a specific figure.
Under the DPP plan, 4.5 million voters could decide the outcome of a referendum while rules allowing lawmakers or members of the public to launch referendums would also be relaxed.
The opposition Taiwan Solidarity Union suggested a different approach for referendums on constitutional issues and on general issues like the nuclear plant, allowing a lower threshold for the latter.
New Taipei City Mayor Eric Liluan Chu suggested that in contrast to other elections, voters would not be compelled to return to their official location of residence to cast a ballot in the referendum. If people did not need to make long journeys especially to vote on the nuclear issue, the turnout for the referendum would be higher and it would have a higher chance of passing, Chu argued.
Jiang told reporters he completely agreed with the proposal, saying he had proposed domestic absentee voting during his term as interior minister. He said that if the Legislative Yuan agreed, he was optimistic the proposal could go through, though he warned that time would be needed to amend laws, prepare procedures and train staff.
The premier praised the referendum because it would be the first one after six failed ones not to be held simultaneously with elections. The fact would allow for rational discussion and push political confrontation to the background, Jiang said.
The Presidential Office said Ma approved of both Chu’s and Jiang’s support for absentee voting within the country, while Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng said changes could be quick if both sides at the Legislature agreed on the reforms.
In contrast, Interior Minister Lee Hong-yuan expressed reservations about the possibility that absentee voting could be used for the referendum because of the time needed to amend relevant legislation, reports said. Ministry of Interior officials said the process might need more than five months. Initial plans foresaw the introduction of the system for presidential elections, but the holding of referendums would require amendments to legislation ruling other elections, reports said.
The premier’s special report this coming Friday will be followed by a question-and-answer session with lawmakers.
He said Tuesday that the public should try and understand the advantages and disadvantages of nuclear energy before going to cast their ballot, but government and protesters should both accept the result. The minority should accept the decision of the majority and stop drawing Taiwan back and forth on the nuclear issue, Jiang said, adding that the government could not go it alone but neither could the opponents continue to protest, because neither was democracy.
Jiang added there were no plans to lower the minimum age for voting to 18 from the present 20, since any changes would need constitutional amendments. He described the existing regulations as ‘fair.’ Switzerland was the only other country with an age limit of 20, People First Party lawmaker Thomas Lee said, while 162 countries set 18 and four nations 16 as the minimum age required for voting.
DPP Chairman Su Tseng-chang on Tuesday renewed its call of support for a nationwide anti-nuclear protest planned for Saturday March 9. The nuclear issue was not a party-political topic but should unite people from across the political spectrum, he said. Su posed with local party leaders holding yellow banners reading ‘No Nuke, No Fear’ in preparation for the weekend rally, which will be organized by various anti-nuclear action groups across the country.
Several prominent artists, actors and movie directors said Tuesday they were going to participate in the protests.
The state-run Taiwan Power Corporation meanwhile rejected allegations from DPP lawmakers that the fourth plant faced at least nine dangerous problems with its machinery. Four of the problems were false, four had been solved, and the only one which still remained – touch screens which reflected the light – was minor and would soon be ended, the company said. DPP lawmaker Lin Chia-lung said that in the event of an emergency, the reflection might cause Taipower staff to push the wrong button and cause a disaster.
The DPP was reportedly planning to delay its preparations for next year’s local and regional elections in order to concentrate its efforts on this summer’s eventual nuclear referendum.