Number Four Nuclear Power Plant:
DPP Lip Service to a Public Referendum
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
February 27, 2013
Summary: Public opposition to nuclear power is increasing day by day. The administration and the legislature have approved a public referendum on whether to halt construction on the Number Four Nuclear Power Plant (4NPP). But surprise, surprise. The DPP, which has for decades demanded for a referendum on nuclear power, suddenly began hemming and hawing. Chairman Su Tseng-chang even said that no referendum on 4NPP was necessary, and that President Ma could simply hand down the order.
Full Text below:
Public opposition to nuclear power is increasing day by day. The administration and the legislature have approved a public referendum on whether to halt construction on the Number Four Nuclear Power Plant (4NPP). But surprise, surprise. The DPP, which has for decades demanded for a referendum on nuclear power, suddenly began hemming and hawing. Chairman Su Tseng-chang even said that no referendum on 4NPP was necessary, and that President Ma could simply hand down the order.
This argument is absurd. The DPP has long boasted it would spare no effort honoring the "Will of the People." It has long equated public referenda with holy edicts. The "Public Referendum on 4NPP" is virtually the DPP's calling card. The government intends to resolve the dispute by holding a public referendum on whether to retain or eliminate the 4NPP. the DPP should be applauding enthusiastically. So why is it instead insisting that "The President can simply issue an executive order?"
Can it be that the DPP was bluffing all along? Can it be that it was merely paying lip service to the "Will of the People?" Can it be that it was shrilly demanding a public referendum, while hoping a public referendum would never actually come to pass, and force it to show its hand? Was it merely putting on a show? Was it merely using a public referendum as a tool to manipulate public sentiment? Was it indifferent to whether a serious public policy controversy was resolved or not?
This is not all. The Green Camp is also demanding three peculiar pre-conditions before it will agree to a public referendum on the 4NPP. One. It is demanding an amendment to the Referendum Act, lowering the referendum threshold. Two. It is demanding a change in the wording of the referendum, from "Do you support a construction halt?" to "Do you support continued construction?" Three. It is demanding that most voters on Taiwan be disqualified from voting in the referendum. It is demanding that participation in the referendum be limited to residents of Xinbei City. Its demands are both incomprehensible and unjustifiable.
The current Referendum Law stipulates that referendum issues require a quorum consisting of over half the electorate, and the approval of over half the valid ballots cast. Only then can the referendum pass muster. This threshold, which is not terribly high, was set by the Chen administration, when it authored its "Referendum Law." The main reason so many past referenda on Taiwan have failed to pass, is that they were phony issues. They were nothing more than political footballs to be demagogued during election campaigns. That is why the public refused to participate in them. That is why they failed to meet the minimum threshold. The 4NPP is a major issue vital to the national interest. Here is an opportunity for enthusiastic citizen participation in a referendum that would truly highlight public sentiment. Why would one amend the law at this time, and lower the threshold, unless one's intention is to play fast and loose with the rule of law, "customizing" the law to one's own liking?
Furthermore, the government has already spent over 300 billion dollars building the 4NPP, every cent of which came out of the hide of the people. Whether to retain or eliminate the 4NPP has a huge impact on electricity prices and their future livelihood. This is definitely not a matter that affects only a single village or a single city. Of course it must be a collective decision. Of course it cannot be treated as merely a regional referendum, held only in Xinbei City. Now consider the wording of the referendum. The choice of "halt construction" or "continue construction" may indeed have positive or negative implications. But the public on Taiwan is not that ignorant. If the premise of the referendum is sufficiently clear, if information is sufficiently accessible, and if the public is not stampeded into a premature conclusion, the results will conform to the peoples actual feelings. Therefore, what justification do politicians have to confuse the public about the issue at stake?
The attitude of the ruling party is clear. It hopes to continue construction and eventually operate the 4NPP in a safe and secure manner. But because many people have doubts, the Ma administration has left the decision up to the people as a whole. It is letting the people decide the fate of the FNPP through a referendum. It is letting the entire community participate in the referendum. This decision is surely better than merely sitting back and watching the opposition DPP and anti-nuclear groups engage in pressure group warfare and turning Taiwan into a powder keg. It is far more responsible. We hope that this will be a public referendum in which the people participate enthusiastically. Regardless what the outcome turns out to be, we hope everyone will respect the collective decision of the people.
This newspaper was the first media organization to advocate a resolution of the 4NPP controversy via a referendum. Public referenda are the last resort for democratic societies attempting to resolve social differences. Having said that, we must recognize the limits to referenda. Referenda can ask only simple "yes" or "no" questions. They cannot ask more complex questions. They cannot tell people how to get from point A to point B. Even if the result of the referendum is that the people choose to continue construction on the 4NPP, it does not mean that disputes over the 4NPP will subside. Any negligence on the part of Taipower, or continued provocation by opponents of the 4NPP, could cause the flames of war to spread. In fact, if the public on Taiwan really wants to resolve the problem, it should change its focus from nuclear safety to non-nuclear power generation. That will require expert calculations and an active search for alternatives. That is not something a referendum can resolve. That will require combined governmental and private efforts.
The current wave of anti-nuclear sentiment includes many fresh faces from the middle-class. They are concerned about environment, both for themselves and for future generations. For them, unlike for the DPP, controversy over nuclear power generation is not a political tool. This is an encouraging phenomenon. They realize the waffling DPP cannot be trusted. They are keeping the DPP at arm's lenght. That is why the DPP's recent anti-nuclear initiatives have been so feeble.
Think about it. When Su Tseng-chang was premier, he approved over 40 billion dollars for the 4NPP. Now however, he is demanding a halt to its construction. The DPP has demand a public referendum on the 4NPP for decades. Now that the KMT has actually agreed to just such a referendum, the DPP is suddenly insisting that "No referendum is needed." Is the DPP merely caught in a contradiction? Or is the DPP at the end of its rope?
2013.02.27 03:31 am