‘UNDERCUTTING DEMOCRACY’: The coalition of civil groups said that turnout rates are proven to be lower on non-election days, making it much harder to pass a referendum
By Ann Maxon / Staff reporter
A coalition of civil groups yesterday expressed concern that amendments to the Referendum Act （公民投票法） that was passed on Monday would create new obstacles to passing referendums and undercut direct democracy.
The amendments, passed in a reckless manner, have turned the law back into the “birdcage act” it was known as before the legislature significantly relaxed it in late 2017, Taiwan Citizen Participation Association president Ho Tsung-hsun （何宗勳） said at a news conference held by the association, together with the Taiwan Jury Association, the Taiwan Environmental Protection Union and five other groups.
Under the amended act, referendums would no longer be held on the same day as general elections, but rather once every two years on the fourth Saturday of August.
The change is expected to drastically reduce the turnout rate at polling stations, making it extremely difficult for any referendum to pass, he said.
While the turnout rate for referendums on election days is generally between 60 and 70 percent, the rate on non-election days is significantly lower, he said.
For example, the turnout rate for local referendums held in Penghu, Lianjiang and Kinmen counties from 2009 to this year were between 24 and 42 percent, he said.
No civil groups can mobilize millions of people to vote, he said, adding: “If we could, we would be running for president. Why bother with a referendum?”
Although the act had flaws, some of the amendments were unnecessary, he said, urging lawmakers to make changes before the end of a provisional session on July 5.
Separately, the Taiwan Presbyterian Church Democratic Union and the Taiwan Alliance to Protect Marriage and Family also held a news conference condemning the amendments.
“When Hong Kongers are fighting for freedom and democracy, the Taiwanese government is taking democracy backward,” Taiwan Alliance to Protect Marriage and Family chairman Jason Ji （机嘉勝） said.
The church supports protests against the extradition bill in Hong Kong and opposes the amendments that undermine direct democracy in Taiwan, he said.
Taiwan should adopt the Swiss model of holding four referendums a year, Taiwan Presbyterian Church Democratic Union founder Weng Shih-chun （翁世俊） said.
If the government is concerned that holding referendums on election days would prolong the voting process, the problem could easily be overcome by increasing polling stations and staff, he added.
Taiwan Alliance to Protect Marriage and Family member Edwards Lee （李晉豪） said that the government has disrespected direct democracy by not enforcing Referendum No. 11.
The referendum — which proposes banning education about homosexuality in junior-high and elementary schools — received more than 7 million “yes” votes last year.
However, instead of removing all educational material about homosexuality, the Ministry of Education in March unveiled a draft amendment to education regulations that replaced the word homosexuality with “sexual orientations and gender identification,” he said.
The draft is as deceptive as calling the tilapia the Taiwanese porgy and putting it in new packaging, he added.
Representatives of civil groups hold a news conference in Taipei yesterday on the anti-extradition law protests in Hong Kong and amendments to the Referendum Act. Photo: Yang Mian-chieh, Taipei Times