Group of foreign election observers says Referendum Act needs to be amended

A group of foreign election observers said yesterday that Taiwan's Referendum Act has several flaws, such as the high threshold and insufficient voting secrecy, which they said led to the low public participation rate in Saturday's election.
An Initiative and Referendum Institute Asia delegation, composed of eight observers from Taiwan, the Philippines, Thailand, Hong Kong, Bangladesh and Sweden, was invited by the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy (台灣民主基金會) to observe the presidential election and two accompanying referendums.
One of the referendums, proposed by the ruling Democratic Progressive Party on applying for U.N. membership under the name Taiwan, received the participation of just 35.82 percent of the eligible voters, while the other, proposed by the opposition Kuomintang on re-entering the U.N. under the official name Republic of China, received the participation of only 35.74 percent of the voters.
The two referendums were invalidated as neither achieved the threshold of participation by at least 50 percent of the electorate.
The foreign visitors also said that referendums should be initiated by society instead of the government, in order to prevent them from being used as political tools.
In addition, voting secrecy was not sufficiently assured, as taking or refusing the referendum ballots might show voters' political positions, said Cyd Ho (何秀蘭), an observer from Hong Kong, who added that people outside the polling booths could see if the voters accepted the referendum ballots.
If the referendum issue is initiated by a certain political party, voters who oppose that party can boycott the referendum by not taking the ballot, which thereby reveals their political position and violates the principle of secret balloting, the observers noted.
"It is better to provide sufficient information for voters about the issues by holding public debates and discussions, " Ho suggested, adding that issues concerning the economy and society could increase people's interest in participating in referendums.
Six referendums, the first two of which were proposed by President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and the rest by various political parties, have been held since the Referendum Act came into force in 2003. All have failed because none have managed to generate sufficient voter interest to raise participation to the 50 percent threshold.