Taiwan and Referendums

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Wednesday March 13, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

Taiwan had a large protest against nuclear power and all polls point to a belief by the public that the 4th nuclear power plant should not be built. Will that come to a referendum or not? Even if it did, a lot could depend on how the referendum is worded.

In an average referendum, if 50 per cent of those who show up and vote, vote yea, then it passes. Those that don't show up indicate that they have no feeling one way or another for the issue. However, Taiwan currently has high-bar, or sometimes called, a "bird cage" referendum law passed by the KMT dominated legislature; by that law for a referendum to pass, the first bar is that over 50 per cent of the eligible voters, must vote; and secondly of those that vote then 50 per cent of them must approve. This allows the KMT to monitor the votes, especially if it is paying the voters.

For example, to defeat a referendum by the first high bar, a party would not have to tell its paid voters to vote no; rather it could simply tell its voters not to vote. By not showing up, they have already voted no, this works especially by keeping the vote from reaching the aforesaid first high bar. Thus, the KMT does not need to know how voters, paid or not, have voted--a semblance of secrecy is preserved--because by showing up and voting they have violated the party's instructions.

A party can then also claim innocence and say that it did not tell its voters to vote against a popular issue.

A second way of course is the wording of the proposal. Take for example the 4th nuclear power plant. The proposal could be worded, "Vote yes, if you want the 4th nuclear power plant construction to continue." or it could be worded, "Vote yes, if you want the 4th nuclear power plant construction discontinued." Now if the proposal was dependent on the high bar--a bar by which no referendums to the whole pubic have passed in Taiwan, then by controlling the number of voters coming out, either one of those could be defeated. Think on this. There will be more, but by having a high bar, and having the election where it is the only reason to come out and vote, with bad weather, lack of concern, laxity, and a party by instructing its people not to show up, can kill a referendum. There will be more.