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REFERENDUM NOT A FLOP: PRESIDENT

2004-03-30 21:35:39

    Taipei, March 30 (CNA) President Chen Shui-bian said in an interview with the Washington Post Monday that Taiwan's first referendum, held alongside the March 20 presidential election, was not a flop, even though it failed to pass the 50 percent threshold require to make it valid.

    Chen said more than 7.4 million eligible voters cast ballots in the referendum on two questions -- whether Taiwan should buy more anti-missile systems in the face of mainland China's mounting missile threat and whether Taiwan should negotiate a "peace and stability" mechanism for interaction with mainland China. "The number of referendum ballots far exceeded the number of votes I received in the presidential election, " said Chen who garnered 6.47 million ballots to secure a second four-year term.

    From this perspective, Chen claimed, the referendum received a warm response and support from the general public.

    Chen attributed the invalidity of the referendum mainly to the high threshold set by the Referendum Act. According to the act, a referendum will be considered valid only when at least half of the electorate casts a ballot. Under this rule, at least 8.2 million would have had to take part to make the March 20 referendum valid. "If the formula used in the presidential election were to have been applied to the referendum, it would have been counted as valid," Chen said.

    In the presidential election, the percentage was calculated on the basis of ballots that were actually cast, not on the basis of the number of eligible voters.

    Chen said an opposition boycott of the referendum, coupled with mainland China's intimidation, had adversely affected the participation rate. "One other unfavorable factor was the layout of the referendum voting. I believe that many voters simply forgot to pick up and cast referendum ballots after they cast their presidential election ballots," Chen said.

    In any event, Chen went on, he was glad to see the referendum proceed smoothly without any glitches. "With this experience, we have taken a step forward in deepening our democratic system," he added.

    The one-hour interview was conducted by David Huffman, the Washington Post's diplomatic news editor, and Philip Pan, the paper's Beijing correspondent, at the Presidential Office. The interview was published in the paper's March 29 issue.

(By Sofia Wu)

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