DPP Puts Chains on Already Caged Referendum
United Daily News Editorial, May 8, 2021
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Su Chiao-hui, the daughter of Premier Su Tseng-chang, recently sponsored a bill to amend the Referendum Act. In addition to requiring co-signers to attach a photocopy of their identity cards, there will also be a threshold for the percentage of “unqualified signatures.” Any referendum that exceeds this threshold will be invalid. In 2019, the ruling DPP amended the Referendum Act decoupling the referenda with elections, which is equivalent to undermining voter participation and shutting the referendum within an iron cage. Today, Legislator Su’s proposal would eliminate the possibility of establishing new referenda, adding chains to the cage. From a ”promoter” of the referendum, the DPP has now become a referendum “terminator.”
For a referendum case to be declared as void, there are two thresholds regarding the rate of unqualified counter-signatures. Either the number of deleted signatures reaches 30,000, or it is more than 10 percent of the total signatures. If we take a look at the nine referendum cases in 2018, and the “restarting the 4th Nuclear Power Plant” referendum this year, only two of them had unqualified signatures under 10 percent, and all 10 referendum cases had over 30,000 unqualified counter-signatures. In other words, once the new law passes, none of these 10 referendum cases would have been successful. Clearly, Su’s proposal would put an end to all future referenda.
Legislator Su claims that the proposal to reform the Referendum Act is to eliminate the chaotic phenomenon during the process of a referendum, such as the fraudulent usage of personal information or signatures of deceased people. However, Su’s excuse is untenable. The reason is because the referendum petitioner does not have the power to examine whether the joint signatures are legal or fraudulent. Once the penalty of “invalidating the referendum” is implemented, it would shift the responsibility of “unqualified counter-signatures” upon the referendum petitioner, which would be a violation of the law of proportionality.
What is even more unreasonable is that once the new law is passed, as long as someone deliberately wants to sabotage a referendum, it would be hard for the referendum initiators to prevent signature fraud. Opponents wishing to eliminate any referendum can simply pretend to support the referendum but mix in a certain number of unqualified counter-signatures. With the DPP being concerned about the referendum, this type of method may be used with the abuse of government resources to abolish any referendum that is not in their interests. Another added requirement for a valid signature is that cosigners need to provide a photocopy of their national identification cards. This new requirement also lowers the possibility of establishing a referendum because the general public are usually cautious when handing out their personal information, let alone providing a photocopy of their ID card to a stranger.
Another heated issue is the electronification of the referendum and recall, which should have been completed by the end of 2018 and remains long overdue. The Executive Yuan and Central Election Committee claim that the system is still undergoing tests on information security. However, why would security tests be delayed for such a long period of time? If this online system were already active, there would not be a need for Su’s proposal to have joint signers to attach a photocopy of their ID card. Could it be that the administration of President Tsai Ing-wen is using these methods to block future referendum cases?
Legislator Su’s proposal is not a conspiracy behind closed doors, but a trick under the sunlight. In 2018, tying the referendum to the general election was a disastrous defeat for the DPP. In the following year, the DPP quickly amended the Referendum Act, decoupling the referendum with the general election and stipulated that referenda can only be held every two years. The DPP thought that these revisions were enough to put the referendum in a cage and rid them of trouble. However, the DPP had no idea that this year four referendum cases would be established. Not only do these referendum cases have a high probability of passing, all of them have a serious impact on the legitimacy of the DPP’s governance. Legislator Su’s proposal would be able to remove these obstacles in order for the DPP to do as they wish.
Legislator Su is Premier Su’s daughter as well as his “spokesperson” in the Legislation Yuan. Other co-signers and promoters of Su’s proposal include people from the New Tide faction and Taiwan Normal Country Promotion Association, as well as those who support President Tsai and who used to promote the value of the referendum. Clearly this proposal is not an idea of a single legislator, instead, ending the referendum to defend the regime has become the consensus of the incumbent administration and the ruling DPP.
The referendum used to be one of the DPP’s foremost political cards. From enacting the Referendum Act to lowering the threshold of establishing a referendum in 2018, the DPP has always been advocating the “will of the people.” However, when the referendum no longer caters to its interests, the DPP immediately puts the referendum into a cage. Now, the DPP even wants to eliminate all referenda by amending the law. To put it bluntly, advocating the referendum was simply a political tool for the DPP. The party advocates democratic values when it is to their advantage, but when it hinders their governance, the DPP eliminates it without mercy. Evidently, the DPP has transformed from a “referendum promoter” to a “referendum terminator”, which is a shame for Taiwan’s democracy.