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May 27, 2017

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High participation crucial for referendum on fate of Nuke 4

President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairman Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) traded barbs in a meeting Friday over the fate of the country's Fourth Nuclear Power Plant. They argued about the most suitable time to put the controversial project to a referendum, with Su demanding that the popular vote is initiated as soon as possible and Ma stressing that such a vote should be held after a series of safety assessments are completed by the Taiwan Power Company (Taipower) and after the Atomic Energy Council gives its approval, but to no avail.

The two leaders also expressed vastly different views on the required percentage of participating voters. On the one hand, Su contended that the current 50 percent turnout threshold should be lowered to 25 percent, meaning that the fate of the nuclear-power plant in New Taipei City's Gongliao District (貢寮) would be decided by a simple majority vote among a quarter of all eligible voters. On the other hand, Ma argued that proper turnout requirements will strengthen the referendum's legitimacy. If a controversial public project like the construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant is approved in a referendum that allows a lower voter turnout, it will also create a dangerous precedent for the future. Why?

The main opposition party wants to have the threshold lowered specifically for the vote on the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant so that a legally binding decision can be made by a majority of the 25 percent of Taiwan's electorate. Mathematically, it would mean that the opposition (or, by extension, the ruling party) could get its way by simply mobilizing its die-hard supporters (or at least 12 percent of the electorate) for any referendums in the future, including a reform of the constitution, changing the name of the country or deciding on the country's energy and trade policies, as well as the future of cross-strait relations. That is unacceptable.

Strangely enough, when it comes to issues regarding mainland China such as the Cross-Strait Trade in Services Agreement, the opposition party wants all agreements signed to be put to a stringent referendum. In other words, when the DPP wants an issue to pass a referendum, the party argues to lower the threshold. And when the DPP wants to have an issue killed, it aims to raises the participation requirement. This is simply treating referendums like a game.

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