Referendums and elections

The China Post news staff

Referendums and elections are totally different events. While people elect a legislature or a government, they propose a measure and submit it for popular vote in a referendum.

Now, the Central Election Commission (CEC) is planning to hold altogether four referendums alongside two national elections early next year. Founded under the Executive Yuan or the Cabinet in 1982, the CEC is in charge of holding and supervising all elections, local as well as national. Two of the referendums, one against government corruption and the other for recovery of what are termed ill-gotten property and assets of the opposition Kuomintang (KMT), will take place with the legislative elections scheduled for Jan. 12. The other two, both for Taiwan’s accession to the United Nations, will be called when voters go to the polls to elect their new president on March 22.

The former two proposals make sense. Practically all the people are agreed that their government is quite corrupt and something has to be done about it. The latter are futile, however. Everybody knows nothing is going to happen even when either or both of them are passed. The only rationale the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the opposition KMT offer for holding their respective proposals — their difference being accession in the name of Taiwan or the Republic of China, respectively — is to let the whole world know of the people’s determination to join the U.N. As a matter of fact, almost the entire world knows the people of Taiwan want their country to have U.N. membership. On the other hand, the DPP-sponsored referendum is strongly opposed by the United States and the People’s Republic of China. Beijing, in particular, considers it a move toward de jure independence, albeit no threat of invasion across the Taiwan Strait has been issued. China has codified an automatic invasion through its anti-secession law, vowing to take Taiwan back to its fold if Taipei declares independence.

The highly partisan CEC, under pressure from the ruling party, met on Friday to decide how to get the four referendums hitched to the legislative and presidential elections. The CEC favored the controversial one-stop issuance of blank ballots for the elections and the referendums. That means a voter will receive all the ballots at one desk in the polling station and cast them in two different ballot boxes. Commissioners appointed at the recommendation of the opposition parties objected to the one-stop plan on the grounds that it would create much more confusion than the two-stop issuance of blank ballots — a voter would receive ballots at two different desks — used in the referendums held together with the presidential election of 2004. After a stormy session, Chang Cheng-hsiung, chairman of the CEC, deferred the decision and announced a public hearing might be held before another meeting is called to finalize how ballots should be received.

There is a third option the CEC does not want to consider. It can unlink the referendums and the elections. The Referendum Law does not require the referendums to be held alongside elections. So, why not hold the referendums separately? We know the CEC has already decided to link the referendums with the elections. But that does not mean it cannot reverse its decision.