As expected, the Referendum Review Committee rejected a Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) proposal for a referendum on ECFA late Thursday night:
The Executive Yuan’s Referendum Review Committee on Thursday night voted 12-4 against an opposition-supported referendum proposal asking voters whether they agreed that the government should sign an ECFA with China. The committee said the question did not fall under what was allowed under the Referendum Act (公民投票法).The article goes on to point out that the Obama Administration believes the referendum would be a setback for ECFA, which it supports. David Reid of David on Formosa had a great post on the defeat of the referendum proposal -- read the whole thing -- it's ever so much better than I could have produced. Here's a taste:
Both the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) assailed the decision and raised concerns of interference by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government.
Minutes after the decision was announced, the TSU — which initiated the referendum proposal — released a sternly worded statement saying that the committee’s decision went against the Constitution.
“The verdict is completely unacceptable,” TSU Chairperson Huang Kun-huei (黃昆輝) said. “The committee’s reasons for rejecting the proposal are unreasonable, illegal and unconstitutional.”
The ability of citizens in Taiwan to initiate a referendum was already restricted by the “birdcage” 2003 Referendum Law. The law imposes an unfairly high threshold of votes which means a referendum vote can be blocked by a boycott of voters even if the total number of votes in favour exceeds 50 percent.The DPP and TSU will continue to push for a referendum on ECFA. But the KMT's strategy is to keep the deal out of genuine democratic, public oversight, so it is unlikely that we will see a referendum on the most important political deal in the island's history.
For example, in the referendums held in conjunction with the 2008 presidential election the vote was overwhelming in favor but the referendums failed to pass because they didn’t meet the threshold. There were 5,881,589 valid votes cast for the question whether Taiwan should join the UN as Taiwan and 94.01% voted yes. On the question of whether Taiwan should return to the UN using the “Republic of China”, ”Taiwan” or some other name there were 5,686,369 valid votes cast with 87.27% in favor (Wikipedia). Remember the latter question was proposed by the KMT who later boycotted the very same referendum. Hence the current law effectively means that the team that boycotts or forfeits gets awarded the win. It is fundamentally unfair.
The TSU is now planning another referendum initiative to abolish the Referendum Review Committee. It is clear that the review process is flawed and easily manipulated by partisan interests. However, the resources of the TSU and other civil society groups promoting referendums are limited. They must think carefully about the strategy that they take to further promote the use of referendums by Taiwan’s citizens.
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