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DPP questions Taiwan premier’s sincerity over nuclear referendum
Opposition demands changes in referendum laws
Taiwan News, Staff Writer
2013-02-26 03:04 PM
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – The opposition Democratic Progressive Party prevented Premier Jiang Yi-huah from presenting his first report to the Legislative Yuan for an hour Tuesday morning as it questioned his sincerity in calling for a referendum about nuclear energy.

In a surprise move, Jiang said Monday he was willing to put the future of the contested fourth nuclear plant to a nationwide referendum expected in July at the earliest.

DPP Chairman Su Tseng-chang called again for an immediate stop to construction work on the plant in Gongliao, New Taipei City, and to a stop to requests for additional budgets. He also said that any referendum on the project could not take place under the existing referendum law because it was too restrictive.

The nuclear issue had been expected to come to the forefront of the political agenda again because of state utility Taiwan Power Corporation’s plan to ask for extra money and to work toward the installation of the first fuel rods next year. At the same time, anti-nuclear activists have been gathering signatures for a local referendum on the issue in New Taipei City.

The ruling Kuomintang had seen how lively opposition against nuclear energy was, so it wanted to use a referendum to protect the construction of the fourth nuclear plant, Su said.

Following the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, the whole world was having second thoughts about nuclear energy yet President Ma Ying-jeou and his government were still pushing against the trend, the opposition leader said.

Su described the existing Referendum Act passed in 2004 as a law only allowing for ‘birdcage’ plebiscites because of the numerous restrictions. The key problem according to critics is that at least half of all eligible voters – currently standing at 9.15 million citizens – have to cast a ballot in the vote. The precedents are not good, because none of six previous referendums, all held on the same day as presidential or legislative elections, failed to reach the required threshold.

In addition, once the referendum over, no matter what its result, it would be impossible to hold another national vote on the same topic for at least eight years, critics of the government decision pointed out.

A proposal by DPP lawmaker Yeh Yi-jin stipulates that a referendum would be valid if at least 25 percent of all eligible voters cast their ballot in favor of the winning question.

Su questioned the sincerity of government leaders in suddenly changing from opposing referendums to approving them. Despite the latest U-turn from the Ma Administration, it still insisted it would go ahead with construction of the plant, with a decision on its safe usage reserved for last, Su said.

Top DPP lawmaker Ker Chien-ming accused Jiang of just sounding conciliatory toward the opposition, but of using subterfuge and tricks to fool the public into believing it wanted to accept its opinion on the nuclear issue.

Opposition politicians also questioned the government’s sincerity in wanting to invite experts from overseas to judge the safety of the new power plant before allowing it to operate. The critics said there was no precedent for overseas specialists being able to vouch for the trustworthiness of a nuclear plant in another country.

The consequence of the government’s attitude would be that the public would be facing a nuclear nightmare for at least eight years to come, DPP legislators said. It also pointed out that the Ma Administration would hold the key to determining what the question on the ballot was.

KMT lawmaker Lo Shu-lei said the choice of question for the referendum was also extremely important. If the question was whether to continue work on the fourth nuclear plant or not, a failure to pass would allow the government to continue work on the project no matter what, she told reporters.

The DPP wants Taiwan to phase out all of its existing three nuclear plants by 2025 and to stop work on the new fourth power plant immediately before Taipower asks for more money. The total budget, including five extra demands for funding, is expected to exceed NT$300 billion (US$10 billion).

Anti-nuclear activists are preparing for massive nationwide protests on March 9, just before the second anniversary of the Fukushima disaster.

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