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President insists holding U.N. bid referendum poses no danger

ROC Central News Agency

2008-03-12 13:53:58

    Taipei, March 12 (CNA) President Chen Shui-bian has again defended the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) -initiated referendum on Taiwan's U.N. bid, saying it would not create tensions, as critics have contended.

    Speaking in a TV interview broadcast Tuesday night, Chen said that if the DPP-proposed referendum on whether Taiwan should join the United Nations under the name "Taiwan" is passed, it would send the world a clear indication of the common aspiration for U.N. representation among Taiwan's 23 million people.

    Many critics have argued that the referendum would not only not help Taiwan gain admission into the world body, but would also provoke rival China and destabilize cross-Taiwan Strait relations.

    Chen acknowledged that passage of the referendum would not guarantee that Taiwan could become a U.N. member. "We have to still follow normal procedures in applying to join the U.N., " Chen said. "The point of the referendum is to tell the world of our people's aspirations and nothing else. There will be no other move, so there will be no danger. "It's unreasonable and unfair to Taiwan's people if a red line is drawn to restrict their free expression of opinion, " Chen said, in a reference to United States pressure on Taiwan in past months to abandon the referendum initiative.

    The DPP-initiated U.N. bid referendum, along with a referendum initiated by the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) on whether the country should rejoin the U.N. under its official title "Republic of China, " or "Taiwan, " or any other dignified name that would bring success, will be held alongside the March 22 presidential election.

    Some civic groups have launched a boycott against both referendums. There have also been calls for delinking the two referendums from the presidential poll, including from former President Lee Teng-hui, who said recently that if the two referendums were to fail, it would mislead the world into perceiving that Taiwan's people do not want U.N. representation.

    In Tuesday's interview, Chen said he would not oppose separating the referendums from the presidential election as long as the KMT, which controls an absolute majority in the legislature, agrees to amend the Referendum Act to lower the legal threshold for a referendum to take effect. "National referendums need to be bound with major national elections because of the extremely high threshold set forth in our present Referendum Act," Chen argued.

    Under the existing law, a referendum can be passed only if more than half of eligible voters cast ballots on the question, and more than half of those voting cast "yes" votes.

    Critics have pointed to the Jan. 12 legislative elections as an indication of how difficult the threshold is to meet. On that day, the KMT and DPP -- the country's two biggest parties -- garnered a total of 8.62 million votes in the "party" vote that determined the distribution of "at-large" seats.

    That total still fell below the minumum 8.638 million ballots needed for any referendum to be counted valid.

    No other country in the world has set such an unreasonably high threshold for a referendum, Chen argued, suggesting that the Referendum Act prevented voters from directly expressing their will or aspiration.

    He stressed that the DPP has initiated the U.N. bid referendum not to boost the support rate for its presidential ticket, but to realize its ideal of having voters show the world their determination to pursue U.N. membership. "It is the KMT, not the DPP, that has abused the referendum as an election campaign tool. The KMT is not sincere in calling for separation of the presidential poll from the U.N. bid referendums. The KMT is fundamentally against any referendum," Chen contended.

    According to Chen, the KMT's referendum on "rejoining" the U.N. was just a tactic to counter the DPP's U.N. initiative. "This is why the KMT now is backing away from its previous stance and has decided to urge its supporters to boycott the U.N. bid referendums, including the one it initiated," Chen said.

    For the DPP, Chen said, the referendum is one of its most important ideals as referendums allow grassroots voters to express opinions directly on major policy issues.

    The president said he shared former President Lee's worry that China would be given more ammunition to block Taiwan's U.N. bid if the two referendums were to fail, and he urged voters to cast ballots in both the DPP- and KMT-initiated referendums regardless of which candidate they support.

(By Sofia Wu)


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