TAIPEI (CNA) – The ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which has long supported the right of referendum and passed legislation to lower referendum thresholds in late 2017, has now passed a bill that will limit the exercise of direct democracy.
The DPP-controlled Legislative Yuan passed an amendment to the Referendum Act on Monday that will only allow national referendums to be held on the fourth Saturday of August every two years, starting in 2021.
That means they cannot be held together with Taiwan’s presidential election in January 2020 or subsequent votes every four years after that or in conjunction with elections for local government offices to be held next in late 2022.
DPP Legislator Chiang Chieh-an (蔣絜安) said the measure was passed to avoid the chaos of having referendums held alongside national polls, referring to local elections in November 2018 when 10 referendum questions were held as part of the vote.
The Central Election Commission (CEC) was clearly unprepared for the addition of the referendum questions to votes for mayor or county commissioners, causing massive lines at polling stations and forcing those stations to stay open hours beyond the 4:30 p.m. closing time.
The DPP suffered a major defeat in the elections, winning only six city and county seats after holding 13 previously.
It also saw some of its core policies, such as the phasing out of nuclear power and opening Taiwan to food imports from Japanese areas affected by the Fukushima nuclear meltdown handily defeated in referendums.
The many referendums were prompted by the DPP government’s lowering of thresholds to initiate referendums in a legislative amendment in December 2017 that made it much easier than previously to bring them to a vote.
The new provision will likely make it harder for referendums to pass, as the Referendum Act requires an initiative to be supported by at least 25 percent of eligible voters and be backed by more than half of the votes cast to be approved.
Turnouts of that size may be harder to muster in late August in a non-election year than on a normal election day.
Also under the amendment, the CEC will have 60 days to verify the IDs of people who endorse referendum petitions with household authorities, rather than the current 30 days, to allow more time for better ID verification.
The promulgation of referendums must be made public 90 days ahead of the run-up to the holding of referendums, an extension from the previous 28 days, to leave more time for a detailed discussion of the topics to be voted on. ●
By Flor Wang and Chen Chun-hua