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TAIWAN'S DEMOCRACY MOVES FORWARD FOLLOWING REFERENDUM: OFFICIAL

2004-03-21 17:34:07

    Taipei, March 21 (CNA) Taiwan has taken another step forward on its road to democracy by holding its first nationwide referendum, even though the two referendum questions failed to pass the threshold to be considered valid, Presidential Office Secretary-General Chiou I-jen said Sunday.

    Chiou made the remarks after the Central Election Commission (CEC) announced Saturday that the turnout rates for the two questions in the referendum that was held in conjunction with Saturday's presidential election were lower than half of the eligible voters.

    In addition to electing a president and vice president, voters also had the opportunity to cast two additional ballots for the two referendum questions -- whether Taiwan should increase its anti-missile defenses if mainland China refuses to remove the missiles it has aimed at Taiwan, and whether the government should negotiate with Beijing for the establishment of an interaction mechanism to promote peace across the Taiwan Strait.

    A total of 45.17 percent of eligible voters cast their ballots on the first referendum question, while 45.12 percent voted on the second question, thus failing to reach the threshold of 50 percent, CEC Chairman Huang Shih-cheng said.

    According to the Referendum Act, a referendum will be considered valid only if more than half of the eligible voters take part.

    In response, Chiou, who is also campaign manager of the national campaign headquarters of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party's ticket of President Chen Shui-bian and Vice President Annette Lu, said it is regrettable that the referendum failed to win support from the majority of voters.

    However, he claimed that the holding of the referendum marked a step forward in the development of Taiwan's democracy, as so many voters still cast referendum ballots.

    Noting that the government must respect the results of the referendum, Liu said that the government will review and amend the contents of the second referendum question on cross-Taiwan Strait negotiations for peace promotion.

    Asked whether a current nine-member task force in charge of promoting cross-strait relations and a government plan to station a Taiwan representative in Beijing will be revised, Chiou said that as the referendum results are binding upon the executive branch, the president will consider how to adjust the framework for the promotion of cross-strait interaction.

    Meanwhile, Hsu Yung-ming, a researcher at Academia Sinica, Taiwan's highest academic institution, predicted that Taiwan's sovereignty will not be undermined, even though the referendum was invalid.

    Hsu said that the holding of the referendum in conjunction with the presidential election helped the Chen-Lu ticket win support from voters and added that with his successful re-election, Chen's referendum course will be firmly established.

    Referendum is expected to become the DPP's panacea for resolving controversial issues on national development, while the "pan-blue alliance" will face more difficulties in staging any referendums because of their boycott of Saturday's one, Hsu claimed.

    For his part, Professor Wang Yeh-li of Tunghai University pointed out that the government's linking of the first nationwide referendum to the presidential election greatly lowered the "solemnity" of the referendum.

    As for the failure of the referendum to reach the threshold to be considered valid, Wang said the government will continue its established policies to promote peace across the Taiwan Strait and to carry out military procurement.

(By Luis Huang)

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