Soldiers can join referendum, not rallies: MND

By Joseph Yeh, The China Post

TAIPEI, Taiwan — Military personnel will not be prohibited from taking part in the referendum on the fate of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant, but active soldiers are not allowed to attend nuclear free rallies, the defense minister said yesterday. “The military adheres to the principle of administrative neutrality and will respect all soldiers’ constitutional rights to vote in (the) referendum,” Defense Minister Kao Hua-chu (高華柱) said in the Legislative Yuan. Kao confirmed that he will take part in the referendum that will decide on whether to scrap the under-construction Fourth Nuclear Power Plant.

He said that the Ministry of National Defense (MND) had not issued any orders against military personnel participating in Saturday’s nationwide anti-nuclear rallies. But he stressed that active military personnel are not allowed to join any kind of assembly or parade, as stipulated in military law.

Noting that members of the armed forces are required by the constitution to be above personal, regional and partisan affiliations, Kao said that every service member should refrain from taking part in political activities to ensure the absence of political interference. Kao made the comments in response to lawmakers’ inquires during a question-and-answer session in the Legislature’s Foreign Affairs and National Defense Committee regarding the hotly debated nuclear safety issue. Over 100 civic groups nationwide took to the streets Saturday to voice their opposition to nuclear energy amid government plans to hold a referendum to decide the fate of Nuke 4 in Northern Taiwan’s New Taipei City. Tsai Huang-liang (蔡煌瑯), an opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmaker, claimed to have received a complaint from a military member in Taipei’s Beitou District, who said that he had been warned by his superior not to attend Saturday’s demonstration. Nuclear Disaster Relief Planning Needs Improvement: Kao Also at the hearing, asked about the military’s disaster relief capacity in the case of a possible nuclear disaster, Kao noted that the armed forces regularly hold drills to test their overall disaster relief capabilities. The comments came in response to a similar disaster faced by Japan during the March 11, 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis. But he admitted that there is still much room for improvement for the military in its disaster-relief skills, especially in the face of such a large-scale disaster like Fukushima.