Presidential hopefuls clash on energy, referendums in last debate

TAIPEI (CNA) — President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) came under fire from her two opponents over her handling of a number of controversial decisions in the only presidential debate ahead of Taiwan’s presidential election on Jan. 11.

Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) of the Kuomintang (KMT) and People First Party Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) both took issue with Tsai’s energy policy and opposition to nuclear power and her handling of referendums.

Commenting on each other’s nuclear policy, Han on Sunday reiterated that he would activate Taiwan’s mothballed fourth nuclear power plant as long as it is safe to run, should he win the January election.

Tsai, on the other hand, urged the Kaohsiung mayor to first address the problem of how to deal with waste fuel before activating the plant.

She also speculated that Han would have to build nuclear plants No. 5, No. 6 and No. 7 to meet what Tsai said was his goal of Taiwan using 25 percent nuclear power in its energy mix by 2035.

Tsai wants to phase out nuclear power by 2025 and rely on a mix of 50 percent natural gas, 30 percent coal and 20 percent renewable energy by that time.

Han dismissed the idea he would want to build more nuclear facilities, and noted that he would only open the No. 4 nuclear plant if it is safe and if the people agree with the idea.

He criticized Tsai for what he said was ignoring the will of the electorate, who voted in a referendum in 2018 by a 19-percentage point margin to remove a clause in Taiwan’s Electricity Act stipulating that nuclear energy would be phased out in 2025.

The clause was in fact eliminated, but the government’s energy policy did not change.

Referendums were also a flash point in the debate, with Han accusing Tsai and her ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) of depriving Taiwanese of the right to participate in referendums after the DPP-controlled Legislative Yuan amended the Referendum Act in June.

The amendment limited the holding of national referendums to only once every two years in late August in non-election years, starting in 2021. In the past, including in November 2018, referendums were usually held in conjunction with national elections.

Because referendums in Taiwan must receive the support of at least 25 percent of the electorate to be valid, the KMT said the move will dramatically reduce turnout, making it extremely difficult for any referendum to pass.

Tsai defended the move, saying it was meant to prevent a repeat of what she described as the 10 referendum questions interfering with the nationwide elections for local offices, in which the DPP lost control of several city and county governments.

“We believe separating referendums and major national elections will help voters to think more rationally and concentrate on the issues raised in each referendum instead of letting the elections influence their decisions,” Tsai argued.

Soong also criticized Tsai’s handling of the referendums and not respecting the results, in particular the results of the referendum on nuclear power and another on supporting same-sex marriage, which voters overwhelmingly opposed.

Despite the opposition, the Legislative Yuan in May passed a law to legalize same-sex marriage to comply with a ruling by the Constitutional Court, which found that Taiwan’s Civil Code defining marriage as being between a man and a woman was unconstitutional.

As in recent policy platform presentations, Han also harped on the DPP doing what it used to criticize the KMT of doing, including intervening in the nation’s judicial system, acting corruptly, and buying over “90 percent of Taiwanese media” to report positively only on the ruling party.

Tsai once again demanded he provide evidence of the corruption he was talking about and also bashed Han for not presenting any tangible policies during three policy platform presentations and Sunday’s debate.