TAIPEI (CNA) — President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) administration and the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) defended on July 7 their latest revision of the Referendum Act, as the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) mobilized tens of thousands to rally in the streets of Taipei to protest against what they called an “iron cage” amendment.
Speaking on the sidelines of a ceremony in Taipei to mark the exoneration of more than 3,000 political victims of the White Terror era, Tsai said the amendment will better guarantee the right of the public to exercise direct democracy via referendum.
“We hope that by setting a fixed date for future referendums, the public will be more likely to focus on the issues to be voted on and be given more time to engage in extensive communications and discussions,” Tsai said.
Asked about her views on the KMT rally, she said the event “looks more like political mobilization for (the party’s presidential) primary.”
The purpose of the rally, which took place on Ketagalan Boulevard in front of the Presidential Office, was to protest against the June 17 passage of an “iron cage” amendment to the Referendum Act.
Under the amended act, national referendums will be held every two years, starting from 2021, on the fourth Saturday of August, instead of alongside national elections.
In addition, the amended act gives the Central Election Commission (CEC) 60 days, instead of 30 days, to verify the IDs of people who endorse referendum petitions. The content of referendums should also be made public 90 days before they are voted on, to leave more room for public discussion, as opposed to the current 28 days.
The amendment’s passage came on the heels of fierce public criticism over the CEC’s handling of last November’s local elections, which were held concurrently with a record number of 10 referendums.
Also speaking on the sidelines of the ceremony, Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) said the KMT is the least qualified party to talk about referendums, given that it has long treated plebiscites as something for the party to be afraid of.
“It was because of unwavering efforts by the DPP and the people of Taiwan that we were able to gradually free referendums from the cage by lowering the thresholds,” Su said. “It is exactly because of the lowered thresholds that people were able to exercise their rights and put forward more and more referendum proposals.”
The latest amendment will facilitate rational thinking behind referendums and make the holding of plebiscites more convenient, Su said, adding that he suspects the rally was electorally motivated.
DPP spokesman Chou Chiang-chieh (周江杰) also accused the KMT of trying to create social chaos by confusing the voters, saying that electorally motivated manipulation of the public is what will set back democracy in Taiwan.
Due to long-time efforts by the DPP and the New Power Party, the legislature was able to pass an amendment to the Referendum Act in 2017 that reduced several key thresholds, Chou said.
Unfortunately, the KMT exploited the lowered thresholds by putting forward a large number of referendums to mobilize voters in last November’s local elections. Some of the petitions the party collected had even been signed by deceased individuals, Chou said.
“(These actions) ran counter to the spirit of referendums, causing a tool originally designed to facilitate public dialogues to degenerate into one used to divide society,” he said.
By Stacy Hsu