Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Referendums Redux

In 2004 one of the ways the DPP stoked its base and powered its way to victory was the use of referendums held during the election. One purpose may have been to demonstrate a popular basis for DPP policies; another, to establish the use of popular referendum, thus taking another step toward independence of government, but mainly, the referendums were intended to get out the DPP base. The China Post described them yesterday:

Taiwan held its first referendum alongside the presidential election of 2004. President Chen Shui-bian initiated the referendum on a dialogue between Taipei and Beijing and the purchase of defense missiles from the United States.

The DPP is currently proposing adding two referendums to the '08 poll.

Trong Chai, acting chairman of the Democratic Progressive Party, pledged yesterday no effort will be spared to have two referendums held alongside the presidential race of 2008.

He told a press conference the party and the government have decided to push for the referendums on "ill-gotten" assets of the Kuomintang and the accession to the United Nations under the name of Taiwan.

"We'll be doing whatever we can to have both held at the same time with the presidential election," Chai declared.

The referendums (Note how the pro-KMT China Post puts the term ill-gotten in quotes) are aimed at popular topics -- support for entry into the UN is strong, and the stolen assets of the KMT are a major issue for Greens. This formula was successful in 2004, but it remains to be seen whether the DPP is fighting this war with the weapons of the last one. Last time around the KMT countered with a program of fei piao, urging Taiwanese to cast invalid ballots as a way to express disapproval of the system, through the "One Million Invalid Vote" alliance. Its success was demonstrated by a near-tripling of invalid ballots from 122,000 in 2000 to 330,000 in 2004 (due also in part to more stringent rules about what constituted a valid ballot). No doubt a similar 'grass-roots' movement will appear in 2008 as well.

One key factor here is the Central Election Commission (CEC). The CEC will vet and approve the referendum process, and the KMT is out to gain control of that institution.

Lawmaker Tseng Yung-chuan, Kuomintang legislative caucus whip, said yesterday it's unfair to let the Central Election Commission decide on whether to hold two referendums alongside the presidential election of 2008.

At a press conference at the Legislative Yuan, Tseng characterized the CEC, founded in 1982 under the Executive Yuan to hold and supervise elections, as an "illegal institution."

"It's unfair to let the illegal institution make a decision on such an important issue as referendums," Tseng pointed out.

The ruling Democratic Progressive Party has control over the CEC, which the opposition Kuomintang has tried in vain to reorganize.

A Kuomintang-sponsored bill to amend the appointment of commissioners according to the proportional representation in the Legislative Yuan has been stalled by the ruling party.

Recently the KMT has been holding the national budget hostage by demanding that the DPP accede to its demands on the CEC. The CEC will determine whether the referendums get on the ballot. It also oversees the fairness of elections, and validates, and reports on, results. It triggers investigations of vote buying, crucial tactics of the KMT and its allies.

Speculation: why is the KMT so concerned about the CEC? Cynical remarks about the KMT objecting to fair elections aside, there are repeated rumors that Shih Ming-teh, leader of the anti-Chen campaign, is getting Chinese money. Shih actually met with Chen Yu-hao, the accused embezzler who fled to China years ago, in Thailand, held to be a favored meeting ground of the CCP and the KMT. I'm wondering whether the KMT wants electoral law oversight to be lax because it is expecting an influx of Chinese money for use in the 2007 legislative elections and 2008 presidential elections. It sure is interesting that the first thing Wu Po-hsiung did after announcing his ascension to the Chairmanship of the KMT is to run to Beijing to hobnob with the CPP leadership.....

1 comment:

Raj said...

With the way things are going - i.e. the KMT refusing to give the DPP something in return for allowing the CEC to be passed - I think the DPP is just going to wait it out and push through the new members with the existing system.

Really the KMT could have got it passed if they'd agreed to pass the weapons procurement at the same time, rather than whinge that the PFP wouldn't back it. They may well have lost the opportunity to get their bill through now.