Referendums in Taiwan
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Referendums in Taiwan at both the national and local level are governed by the Referendum Act of Taiwan, which was enacted by the Legislative Yuan in December 2003. Citizens can propose laws via referendums at the national and local levels. The Referendum Act also allowed people to make changes or abolish laws by referendums.
While the rights of initiatives and referendums are mentioned in the Three Principles of the People and Chapter 9, Article 136 of the Constitution of 1947, a law pertaining specifically to referendums was not enacted until 2003. The Referendum Act was promoted by Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) politicians such as Chai Trong-rong, Lin Yi-hsiung, Yeh Chu-lan, Lu Hsiu-yi, Lin Cho-shui, and the Chen Shui-bian-Annette Lu administration. While both citizens of Taiwan and the Legislative Yuan can initiate the referendum process, the Pan-Blue Coalition held a legislative majority at the time of the act's promulgation, and set an extremely high bar to prevent its application.
As of 2016, no national referendum had been carried out validly, although three had been successful at the local level. New Power Party, Taiwan Solidarity Union, and some DPP members are major forces in the legislature calling for reform.
The Legislative Yuan revised several sections of the Referendum Act in December 2017. The first round proposal threshold for national and local referendums were cut from 0.1 to 0.01 percent of the electorate in the most recent presidential election, and the second tier proposal threshold for referendums was lowered from 5 to 1.5 percent of the electorate. Additionally, referendums will be declared passed if a majority of voters vote for propositions, and the number of agreeing votes reaches 25 percent of the electorate, instead of 50 percent.
Several amendments to the Referendum Act were proposed in June 2019, among them a requirement for voters to provide a photocopy of their National Identification Card when voting on referendums. An amendment to separate election years from referendum years was passed, and will take affect in August 2021. The same amendment also limited referendum voting to every two years, and mandated a specific date for the vote, the fourth Saturday in August.
- 2004 Taiwanese cross-Strait relations referendum (March)
- 2008 Taiwanese transitional justice referendum (January)
- 2008 Taiwanese United Nations membership referendums (March)
In each of these six national referendums, "Yes" votes won a majority over "No" votes. However, the referendum results were invalidated each time due to low turnout rate. According to the Referendum Law, 50% turnout of qualified voters is required for the referendum to be valid. The threshold has yet to be reached, as the Kuomintang asked its supporters to boycott each referendum. Therefore, the removal of the turnout restriction in the referendum law has been proposed. Several provisions regarding turnout were amended by the Legislative Yuan in December 2017.
A national referendum on the state of Kuomintang party assets was proposed in 2006. The Act Governing the Handling of Ill-gotten Properties by Political Parties and Their Affiliate Organizations was promulgated by the Legislative Yuan in July 2016 to handle the issue instead.
In 2010, the Referendum Review Committee, then controlled by the Pan-Blue Coalition, rejected several referendum proposals against the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement, signed in 2010. despite the collection of nearly 200,000 signatures supporting a referendum on Cross-Strait economic pacts. Public opinion surveys show a majority of respondents opposed the signing of the ECFA with China and many experts, politicians, and protesters see a referendum for the ECFA as essential.
In 2016, Kuomintang vice chairman Hau Lung-pin proposed that the fate of a food import ban in place against Japan since the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster be decided via referendum. The Kuomintang legislative caucus moved to reduce turnout restrictions so the food import ban could be considered via referendum, but the proposal did not pass.
From 1990 to 2003, sixteen local referendums were called. Since the Referendum Act passed, four local referendums have been held as of 2016. The first one was held in Kaohsiung in 2008 for reducing the size of classes in elementary school and high school. It was invalid due to its low turnout rate. The other three attempted to legalize casinos and were valid due via special law: the ones held in Penghu in 2009 and 2016 failed while the one held in Lienchiang in 2012 succeeded. No legal casino has yet been established in Taiwan.
Article 17 of the Referendum Act states "When the country is under the threat of foreign force and the national sovereignty is likely to be changed, the President may, with the resolution of the meeting of the Executive Yuan, apply the matters regarding the national security to referendum." Such a referendum has not yet been held.
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