Taiwan lowers threshold for referendums

The threshold to start and pass referendums in Taiwan has been lowered as well as the voting age to 18

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Legislators shout "The people decide, return rights to the people."

Legislators shout "The people decide, return rights to the people." (By Central News Agency)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- In a major advancement for Taiwan's democracy, the Legislature today passed new provisions to the Referendum Act (公民投票法) which will lower the percentage of turnout to enact a referendum, reduce the number of signatures to initiate a plebiscite, and drop the referendum voting age to 18, reported CNA

Under the newly amended law, an initiative to launch the first stage of a referendum will only require 0.01 percent of total eligible voters who participated in the most recent presidential election, as opposed to the 0.1 percent that was required to pass this first hurdle. In the case of the 2016 presidential election, that would be 1,879.

For the second stage of such a plebiscite to succeed, it now only requires 1.5 percent of those eligible to vote in the presidential election, as opposed to 5 percent previously. This translates to 280,000 people from the 2016 presidential election. 

As for the third and final stage of a referendum, only a majority of 25 percent of eligible voters must agree to the act as opposed to the previous 50 percent. This would be the equivalent to 4.69 million of the voters from the past presidential race. 

Though the Referendum Act was passed in 2003, none of the six referendums attempted succeeded as they were never able to achieve the steep 50 percent threshold. In the past, leaders of one of the two major parties could call on all members to boycott the vote or the Referendum Commission could decide that it was not a subject worthy of a vote. 

The new law includes a provision that states, unless otherwise indicated in the constitution, Taiwanese citizens that have reached the age of 18 and are not under the care of a legal guardian, have the right to vote in these referendums.

The Kuomintang also added a provision to this that absentee voting would be allowed with referendums that Democratic Progressive Party legislators eventually signed on to. 

The newly amended law also abolishes Referendum Review Commission, which used to give Cabinet-appointed commissioners the power to block topics they did not think were worthy of a referendum. Now, a wide spectrum of topics are open to referendums, with the exception of sovereign symbols protected by the constitution, such as the country's name, flag, anthem or territorial boundaries.