ROC referendum, 2004

From Academic Kids

A nation-wide consultative referendum (全國性公民投票) was held in the Republic of China (Taiwan) on March 20, 2004 to coincide with the 2004 presidential election. Voters were asked two questions regarding relations with the People's Republic of China. The initiation of this referendum by President Chen Shui-bian came under intense criticism from the PRC because it was seen as an exercise for an eventual vote on Taiwan independence. The Pan-Blue Coalition urged a boycott, citing that the referendum was illegal and unnecessary. Voters agreed by wide margins two questions put by the government, but the less than 50% turnout invalidated the result.

Contents

Questions and results

1. The People of Taiwan demand that the Taiwan Strait issue be resolved through peaceful means. Should Mainland China refuse to withdraw the missiles it has targeted at Taiwan and to openly renounce the use of force against us, would you agree that the Government should acquire more advanced anti-missile weapons to strengthen Taiwan's self-defense capabilities?

Type of vote Valid votes % of valid votes
Yes 6,511,216 91.80%
No 581,413 8.20%
Turnout
Registered Voters 16,507,179
Votes Cast 7,452,340 45.15% of registered voters
Valid Votes 7,092,629 95.17% of votes cast
Invalid Votes 359,711 4.83% of votes cast

2. Would you agree that our Government should engage in negotiation with Mainland China on the establishment of a "peace and stability" framework for cross-strait interactions in order to build consensus and for the welfare of the peoples on both sides?

Type of vote Valid votes % of valid votes
Yes 6,319,663 92.05%
No 545,911 7.95%
Turnout
Registered Voters 16,507,179
Votes Cast 7,444,148 45.10% of registered voters
Valid Votes 6,865,574 92.23% of votes cast
Invalid Votes 578,574 7.77% of votes cast

A minimum of 50% voter turnout was required to validate the results. This was not achieved for both questions and the results, overwhelming in favor of both measures, were invalidated.

Legislative process for a law on referendum

The vetting of the referendum bill appeared to alarm Beijing which issued more sharp threats of a strong reaction if a referendum bill passed which would allow a vote on sovereignty issues such as the territory and flag of the ROC. The final bill that was passed by the Legislative Yuan on November 27, 2003 did not contain restrictions on the content of any referenda, but did include very high hurdles for referenda on constitutional issues. These hurdles were largely put in place by the Pan-Blue Coalition majority in the legislature. The bill also contained a provision for a defensive referendum to be called if the sovereignty of the ROC was under threat. In response to the referendum passage, Beijing issued vague statements of unease.

Proposal for a referendum and reactions

On November 29, President Chen Shui-bian announced that given that the PRC had missiles aimed at Taiwan, he had the power under the defensive referendum clause to order a referendum on sovereignty, although he did not do so. This statement was very strongly criticized both by Beijing and by the Pan-Blue Coalition. But instead, he proposed a referendum to ask the PRC to remove the hundreds of missiles it has aimed at Taiwan.

In a televised address made on January 16, 2004, President Chen reiterated his "Four Noes and One Without" pledge, justified the "peace referendum," and announced its questions.

Reaction from the PRC

During a visit by Wen Jiabao, George W. Bush gave a clear statement that it "opposes" any form of referendum that will unilaterally change that status quo.

It is believed that the United States fears Chen will put the U.S. in a hard position, if his words anger Beijing and cause military confrontation between two sides. In addition, there are worries that, despite the innocuous wording of the current referendum, Chen is attempting to set a precedent that would ultimately lead to a referendum involving Taiwan independence. The PRC has stated that it would respond to such a step with military action, which would then possibly require a response by the United States under the terms of the Taiwan Relations Act. In addition, the US is unwilling to confront Beijing in East Asia, as the US is tied down in Iraq and wants Beijing's help in dealing with nuclear proliferation in North Korea. But despite the worries expressed by the United States, Chen has insisted that a referendum be held in March 20. The official position of the United States, as stated by Colin Powell, is that the United States opposes any attempt by either side to unilaterally change the status quo; that it opposes any referendum that would move or tend to move Taiwan toward independence; that it supports the one China policy; and that it finds the current referendum unnecessary.

Official debates

A series of 10 debates were held over 5 days (Wednesdays and Sundays) on the referendum (first pair on first question; second on second; pro-government listed before con-) [1] (http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/taiwan/archives/2004/02/26/2003100166)

One interesting characteristic of the debates is that the con positions were not argued by any active political figures in the Pan-Blue Coalition, and the CEC at first found it difficult to find people to take the con position. The Pan-Blue Coalition has made it clear that it favored the topics to be decided in the referendum, but believed that the referendum process itself was illegal and a prelude to more controversial topics. As a consequence, Pan-Blue asked its supporters not to vote at all in the referendum, with the intention of having the number of valid votes fall below the 50% voter threshold necessary to have a valid referendum.

Election procedure

Because of Pan-Blue's strategy of having people cast no ballot in the referendum, one major controversy was the format of the election, specifically as whether the referendum questions would be on the same or different ballots as the Presidency. After much debate the CEC decided that there would be a U shaped line in which people would first cast a ballot for President and then cast a separate ballot for each of the two questions. Voters who choose not to cast a referendum ballot could exit the line at the base of the U. Near the end of the campaign, the CEC issued a number of conflicting and constantly changing directives as to what would constitute a valid ballot.

See also

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