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Home Editorials of Interest Taipei Times Referendum decision bodes poorly

Referendum decision bodes poorly

The Cabinet’s Referendum Review Committee rejected the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) referendum proposal on Thursday in part because the proposal “was not clear enough and asks the public to vote on something that has not yet happened.” These reasons defy common sense and show how the committee is trying to use administrative measures to block the move and thereby deprive the public of its right to hold a referendum.

The committee’s decision is not surprising or unexpected. The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) still believes in a party-state with minority rule and opposes the idea that the public should be allowed to directly express its will or help formulate government policy. The KMT can do nothing to stop Taiwan’s democratic progress, but it has used its legislative majority to set almost insurmountable requirements for the proposal, collection of signatures, registration and passage of referendums.

It was only to be expected that the six referendums held under these restrictive rules over the past few years have all failed. With its total grip on power, it was only natural that the KMT would block any referendum related to its proposed economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA).

The committee ignored procedural justice by forcing through a motion suspending the right to speak and moving to a vote before all committee members had a chance to express their opinions. Absurdly, this meant a decision was reached even before the reasons for that decision had been established.

The committee review should be carried out with a minimum of restrictions, and unless a proposal violates the Referendum Act (公投法), it should be submitted to the public. Instead, the committee overstepped its powers by declaring that the proposal was not clear enough and failing to undertake a substantive review of a proposal submitted by the public.

The argument that the proposal could not be approved because it asked the public to vote on something that has not yet happened restricts referendums to dealing with things past, incomprehensibly rejecting the reasoning behind the right of initiative. From this perspective, public issues would be required to first become reality — potentially causing harm or violating the public will — before a referendum can be held. This reduces direct democratic participation in policymaking to words on paper, hurting both national and public interests.

The committee’s decision is aimed at currying favor with their superiors. Their chop-logic directly blocked a proposal signed by 150,000 people and deprived 17 million voters of the right to directly express their opinion, giving the committee more decision-making power than they rightfully have. Only in totalitarian states can a small minority suppress the basic rights of the majority in this way. That this happens in a democracy is a frightening example of the speed and extent to which the current government is undermining decades of effort toward democratization. The view in both academic and political circles is that the Referendum Review Committee should only make a formal review, but as its superiors’ wishes are obvious, the committee ignored fundamental democratic requirements.

If the government can force through such a major agreement — and is prepared to sign it with an enemy state — without being able to explain it, then what are the chances the government will submit future agreements with China for review by the public?

In addition to filing an administrative appeal, the opposition should file an administrative lawsuit and ask for a constitutional interpretation to overturn the Referendum Review Committee’s inappropriate decision.

Source: Taipei Times - Editorials 2009/08/31

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