Importance of referendums

With voting day approaching for Taiwan's fourth direct presidential election Saturday, all citizens and the media are fixated on the intense competition between Kuomintang presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou and his Democratic Progressive Party rival Frank Hsieh Chang-ting.
The result of Saturday's vote may well determine whether Taiwan follows a road toward integration with the People's Republic of China and restores KMT "one-party domination" or maintains its independence, democracy and a Taiwan-centric path of development.
However, no less important are two referendums which will be held concurrently with the presidential poll. The two initiatives concern whether to authorize our government to apply for membership in the United Nations under the name of "Taiwan" as advocated by the DPP and Taiwan-centric civic groups and a KMT-sponsored initiative calling for an application for "readmission" to the U.N. as the "Republic of China" or another "pragmatic, flexible and dignified" moniker.
Under the "birdcage" Referendum Law approved by the KMT-controlled Legislative Yuan in November 2003, passage of any referendum requires a "dual majority." This means that 50 percent of our 17.3 million voters must cast ballots and that the initiative receives "yes" votes from at least 50 percent of those voting.
However, the opposition KMT together with pro-China and right wing front groups, has adopted a strategy of "passive boycott" to block the passage of both referenda, including the initiative for "readmission into the U.N." proposed by Ma and KMT vice presidential running mate Vincent Siew.
Their purpose is twofold.
The most evident and direct objective is to block approval of the DPP-backed "U.N. for Taiwan" referendum in line with the KMT's own "China-centric" ideology and comply with the intense opposition to both initiatives by the PRC's ruling Chinese Communist Party, which now as a "party-to-party dialogue" with the KMT.
The longer-range goal of the "passive" boycott is to discredit the credibility of referendums and direct democracy in Taiwan in order to undermine any future exercise in self-determination.
Combined with the unreasonably high turnout quorum, the boycott call aims to trample on democratic principles by giving people who do not exercise their rights as citizens the power to veto the majority will of citizens who do actively cast their ballots to decide public affairs.
Given the importance of this opportunity for the Taiwan people to express their will to join the United Nations, Hsieh and DPP have issued a compromise appeal for voters to take and cast ballots in both referenda and thus have canceled any partisan advantage.
The damage inflicted on our democracy by the KMT's successful boycott of 4 previous referendums was serious, but cannot compare with the potentially irreparable harm to our collective interests if the KMT's boycott against the two U.N.-related referendums succeeds.
First voice
The two referendums, especially the DPP-sponsored "U.N. for Taiwan" initiative, offer the first opportunity in our history for the 23 million people of Taiwan to express our collective will on whether they wish to have their own distinct representation in the world community.
Approval of either referendums will not directly lead to actual U.N. membership since only the members of the U.N. itself have the right to approve our application.
However, passage of the initiative calling for an application to join the U.N. under the name of "Taiwan" or even approval of the "readmission" version will immeasurably bolster the legitimacy of Taiwan's effort to affiliate with the U.N. and will compel the U.N. to face the substantial question of the lack of representation for the people of Taiwan in the U.N.
However, if both referendums fail to receive valid approval from the electorate, the Beijing regime will undoubtedly claim to the international media and world governments that the results confirm its position that calls for Taiwan's independence or self-determination or retaining our democratic system are only the "voice of a small minority" or even declare that the majority of Taiwanese hope for unification with the PRC.
Beijing will thereby receive more legitimacy to squeeze Taiwan out of international organizations or push for the subordination of our representation under its umbrella as "Taipei, China," similar to "Hong Kong, China."
Last but not least, it will be virtually impossible for Taiwan's official allies or democratic friends in the U.N. to rebut Beijing's claim that "Taiwan is a province of the People's Republic of China" and does not merit separate representation in the U.N. or other international bodies.
What is even more painful is the fact that the KMT's decision to boycott both referendums for narrow partisan objectives will prevent Saturday's voting from truly reflecting the genuine collective will and voice of the Taiwan people, whom favor U.N. participation by an overwhelming majority according to virtually all opinion polls.
We urge all voters to set aside partisanship and realize that March 22 offers the first and perhaps only chance for the people of Taiwan to make their collective will heard in the world community.