ECFA Referendum: More Rationality, Less Politics
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
June 7, 2010
Last week members of the the Executive Yuan Referendum Commission met for several hours. They voted 12 to four against the Taiwan Solidarity Union's proposed referendum, which asked "Do you agree or disagree with the government's intention to sign the Economic Framework Cooperation Agreement (ECFA)?" Green Camp members have expressed a great deal of dissatisfaction, leading to a high degree of controversy, and contributing to continued add more fuel to the political fires.
The Referendum Commission had two reasons for rejecting the Taiwan Solidarity Union's referendum proposal. One was that the wording of the referendum proposal contradicted its intent. The second reason was that the wording of the referendum proposal adopted an affirmative position by posing a question, when it was in fact taking a stand against ECFA. Even if the referendum were to pass, it would not change the status quo. Therefore it failed to qualify as a referendum on a major policy issue, and could not be approved.
In arriving at this decision, the Referendum Commission was 100% correct. We said so before. Now that the referendum proposal has been rejected, its sponsors are clearly not going to let the matter rest. They are certain to try again. In this connection we would like to offer several observations.
The sponsors of the referendum are saying that by rejecting its referendum proposal, the Referendum Commission is obstructing the referendum process. In fact anyone with any iota of political sense knows that is not the issue. Actually the Referendum Commission's decision has clarified a fuzzy aspect of the Referendum Law. The wording of the Taiwan Solidarity Union's referendum proposal may have been intentional or unintentional. Either way, if it had passed, it would have resulted in a self-contradiction. The sponsors were clearly opposed to the signing of an ECFA agreement. Yet they reversed their wording. They worded their referendum proposal to make it look like a question and an affirmation. The result would have been voter confusion over the content of the proposal. The result would have been a bizarre paradox. Even assuming a majority of the public expressed opposition to ECFA, they would be unable to stop ECFA. If this was political calculation, it was a carefully calculated. If this was merely an unintentional blunder, then its sponsors need only reword it. That should not be easy enough. Two issues should be considered. The first is the right way to word a referendum proposal. The other is the right time to make a referendum proposal.
The norm in a democracy is representative politics. The role of a public referendum is merely to address inadequacies in respresentative politics. If those who are asking for a referendum on ECFA are asking the government to promote ECFA, they should be asking for an initiative, not a referendum. Since the government is already promoting ECFA, there is no need to demand an initiative on this major policy issue. If those who are asking for a referendum on ECFA are asking the government to stop promoting ECFA, then it can be classified as a referendum on a major policy issue. In which case, the referendum should simply ask whether the voter "opposes" or "disapproves of" ECFA. There is no reason to mislead the voters or to use contradictory wording in the referendum. Otherwise, to accuse the Referendum Commission of obstructing the referendum process is unfounded hyperbole.
The key to referenda on major policy issues is timing. Since the referendum concerns major policy, any referendum proposal should of course be made only after the major policy has actually been formulated. Take ECFA for example. No agreement has yet to be reached on its content. That means the target of the proposed referendum does not exist. Any referendum proposal would be premature. At best it would be political demagoguery.
In fact the two sides have many procedural problems to consider before they sign ECFA. One is that the draft of the agreement will go into effect only after approval by the Legislative Yuan. for Beijing, it must be approved by the NPC. How cross-Strait official government documents should be signed, and what formal procedures should be implemented, warrant careful consideration. If the process includes public referenda, one must find a more rational approach. Should a public referendum be considered when the Executive Yuan asks the Legislative Yuan to consider a draft? Or should it be considered only after the Legislative Yuan has given its approval? The Referendum Law leaves much room for interpretation. The referendum process is the final step in the democratic process. It must abide by the rule of law. One must not approach every issue by resorting to electoral politics and political mobilization. If one fails to determine what sort of referendum procedure is what the rule of law and democracy on Taiwan require, then one has betrayed the hopes and dreams of the public on Taiwan regarding democratic politics.
We of course have our own view on whether ECFA really requires a public referendum. But if some voters insist that the issue requires a referendum, they have the right to demand one, in accordance with legal procedures. Those who oppose a referendum cannot stop them. Therefore we are not addressing the political legitimacy or political wisdom of demanding an ECFA referendum. We are merely reminding the government and the Pan Green opposition that if a referendum on ECFA cannot be avoided, then we must proceed in a proper and logical manner. Selfish political calculations must not be allowed to bedevil the Republic of China's referendum process.