Nuclear Referendum: Opponents are not Enemies
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
March 27, 2013
Summary: The Ma administration has called for a referendum on the 4NPP, based on nuclear safety considerations. It has declared that it serious about the matter. It wants at least half of the eligible voters to participate in the referendum. Many KMT officials, unlike the Ma administration, are thinking only of 2014 and 2016. The referendum on the 4NPP will be a touchstone for democracy on Taiwan. It will be a touchstone for human values on Taiwan. .
Full text below:
As a ruling party, the KMT's ineptitude never ceases to amaze. Many KMT political appointees do not know how to play the political game. They have no tricks up their sleeves. When dealt a bad hand, they make it worse. Other KMT political appointees know how to play the political game. Even when they are dealt a bad hand, the outcome is not preordained. In general however, the KMT has a knack for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Opponents of the KMT need do nothing. For example, Premier Jiang Yi-hua played the public referendum card. This left the DPP dumbfounded. The KMT essentially killed its own members with friendly fire.
Controversy has raged over the Number Four Nuclear Power Plant (4NPP). Supporters of the plant probably cannot explain their reasons. As Taichung Mayor Jason Hu put it, "Nuclear energy is not something one can easily persuade people to like. I too support a nuclear-free homeland. But it should be phased in gradually. It should be discussed rationally. One should not make it an emotional issue." It is true that policy debate should not become an emotional issue. But the most serious problem is the Blue Camp has no idea how to prevent policy debates from becoming emotional issues.
KMT legislators invariably make the same mistakes. They lack both the ability and the willingness to defend their policies. They even lack the discipline to attend meetings on time. That is how they allowed the DPP to prevent the Legislative Yuan Fiscal Policy Committee from passing the Taipower budget. They even failed to demand further debate. With legislators like this, to expect effective governance from the Ma administration is wishful thinking.
KMT leaders, especially Eric Chu, Hau Lung-bin, and Chang Tung-jung in the Taipei, Xinbei, and Keelung evacuation zone, are subject to public pressure. Chang Tung-jung may be an exception. Chu and Hao have heavy responsibilities as younger generation, torch bearers. But the 4NPP impacts the lives of the people as a whole. If these KMT leaders harp on their reelection campaigns, seek central government level office, they will provoke popular resentment. Eric Chu expressed concerns over the safety of the 4NPP long before Premier Jiang. His views on the referendum are crystal clear. "It must be in earnest." To be fair, whether the referendum can calm the political storm remains hard to say. If fewer than half of the eligible voters participate in the referendum, but over half vote down nuclear power, the political repercussions will be serious. They will far exceed what Premier Jiang alone can smooth over.
The 4NPP controversy has raged for 30 years. Legislators have engaged in fisticuffs. Protestors have taken to the streets. No solution, however unsatisfactory, has been found. Never mind a consensus. Under the circumstances, the only solution is a referendum. As Jason Hu noted, "Having come to this, Taiwan must solve the problem through a referendum. Let us put it to a vote!" Elected representatives have a dilemma. A direct appeal to public opinion lets them off the hook. We must hold a referendum. We must ensure that everyone defers to the outcome. This time, we can no longer dodge the issue. The future of our children and grandchildren must not be left to the politicians. It must be our own decision.
Suppose more than half of the eligible voters participate in the referendum, and over half vote down nuclear power. Whether the Blue Camp or Green Camp is in power will no longer matter. They will both have to share responsibility. Suppose Jiang Yi-hua resigns out of a sense of responsibility. The sole sacrifice will be a single premier, or at most a handful of political appointees. This would be a small price to pay. Premier Jiang's declaration was clearly made after much thought. He is trading his own power for the good of the nation. Who can complain? Anyone who makes such decisions based on power considerations, is petty indeed. Conversely, suppose more than half of the eligible voters participate in the referendum, and more than half vote nuclear power up? Those who oppose the 4NPP would have to accept the fact that a nuclear-free homeland is still in the future. This future need not be a distant future. The government's nuclear-free homeland policy states that the 4NPP must be safe to operate. The 1NPP, 2NPP, 3NPP are older, higher risk power plants. They are scheduled to be decommissioned. The 4NPP has an operational life as well. During this time, Taiwan must find alternative sources of energy. This might be good for Taiwan's long-term development.
Overnight anti-nuclear convert Hau Lung-pin advocates deciding the fate of the 4NPP by means of an opinion poll. This proposal must be rejected out of hand. Others may support or oppose nuclear energy on the basis of irrational emotions. But Hau Lung-bin has a science and engineering background. He should understand the importance of making policy decisions based on science. He served as head of the EPA under the Chen administration. The first thing he did was to clearly inform the DPP that he supported his father Hau Pei-tsun's policy. He supported the construction of the 4NPP. Now however, he has jettisoned the scientific argument he once advanced. He may use the Fukushima nuclear disaster as an excuse. But to make such a major policy decision based on opinion polls reveals a serious misunderstanding of democracy. According to Hau Lung-bin's logic, the even more controversial Wenlin Yuan, in his jurisdiction, could not be dismantled because 60% of those who answered online opposed its demolition. According to his logic, we may as well use polls to decide which elected representatives should be allowed to remain in office, and which should required to step down, including Blue Camp representatives. Those who fail to receive an absolute majority would be required to step down. Impeachment would be unnecessary.
The Ma administration has called for a referendum on the 4NPP, based on nuclear safety considerations. It has declared that it serious about the matter. It wants at least half of the eligible voters to participate in the referendum. Many KMT officials, unlike the Ma administration, are thinking only of 2014 and 2016. The referendum on the 4NPP will be a touchstone for democracy on Taiwan. It will be a touchstone for human values on Taiwan. A democratic and pluralistic ROC must learn a lesson. When making policy decisions, your opponent is not your enemy. He is a compatriot who like you is attempting to safeguard his country and his home. Everyone loves his country. How he votes does not change that.