Chen opposes nuclear plant referendum

The China Post staff

President Chen Shui-bian yesterday expressed his support for the majority opinion of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmakers not to hold a referendum on the controversial issue of whether to scrap the No. 4 nuclear power plant on the island. When receiving a group of DPP legislators, Chen emphasized that issues with immediate impact on people’s livelihood should be placed above the more controversial ones. Commenting on a poll of DPP lawmakers’ opinions on the nuclear power controversy, he set the goal of giving greater stress on people’s living and less on politics. He added the controversial issues should be shelved. Some DPP legislators said Chen is now determined to put people’s daily problems as his top priority and tackle the economic downturn. Chen also expressed again the hope of “forming a coalition government for joint ruling” after the general elections in December. As a tactic to delay actions on the nuclear power issue, Chen suggested that the Executive Yuan (Cabinet) also consult local-level administrators like county chiefs and mayors while the DPP should solicit opinions of local chapters. Among the 66 lawmakers of the ruling DPP, 38 or 60 percent oppose the holding of a nuclear referendum in December while only 18 endorse the plan. Four of them declined to offer their personal opinions while answers on six questionnaires were ruled invalid. Those opposing the referendum plan emphasized that there is no change in their firm support for the party’s “non-nuclear homeland” policy, but added that the timing was not right. They also pointed out a technical problem, saying that the “consultative referendum” pushed by some DPP leaders would lack legal base and binding powers since the county and city governments controlled by the opposition parties would not even join the central government in taking part in the referendum. Even if the majority of people backs the scrapping of the power plant, the opposition parties may still not accept the verdict and local governments controlled by the Kuomintang may not comply with the decision. They explained that as President Chen is still trying his best to maintain political stability and win support from the opposition camp through his proposed economic development advisory committee, there is no reason to rock the boat.

They also feared that many people would hate seeing a repetition of last year’s political standoff on the same issue.

Premier Chang Chun-hsiung abruptly halted construction of the partially completed power plant in October last year, but was forced by opposition parties to revive the construction work. Sharp political clashes on the issue has not only caused astronomical financial loss for the government and taxpayers but has also shaken the confidence of stock investors. DPP Secretary General Wu Nai-jen said yesterday that the opposition of many DPP lawmakers to the referendum should not be interpreted as the party changing its nuclear-free policy. But he agreed with President Chen about not rushing the settlement of the dispute by year-end. Another reason for not dealing with the issue right now, Wu said, is that the budget passed by lawmakers for the nuclear power plant is valid till 2002. Opposition parties already served stern warning against the DPP’s attempt to revive the nuclear power plant controversy, saying the move will only create more political and economic troubles for Taiwan. Former DPP Chairman Lin Yi-hsiung champions holding the consultative referendum along with the year-end elections in the hope of using voters’ opinions to scuttle resistance from opposition parties and force the government to scrap the unfinished power plant. But Hsu Hsin-liang, another former DPP chairman, said it is not a smart move to revive the controversy now as it has already weakened people’s confidence in the government and caused widespread instability in the society. Premier Chang’s Cabinet is scheduled to offer the executive branch’s decision on the referendum issue by the end of July. The opinions of DPP lawmakers and President Chen are expected to dictate Chang’s stand. Political analysts said that the reopening of the controversial nuclear power issue may help DPP candidates consolidate support from traditional backers in the December elections. However, they said, the stratagem may also backfire if Taiwan is torn further apart by the controversy while investors could be further chilled by flip-flopping government policies.