Taiwan’s Potemkin Referendum
February 23, 2004
Executive Summary: ROC President Chen Shui-bian, aka “A-Bian,” is demanding that everyone from Douglas Paal to Jacques Chirac “respect the right of the People of Taiwan to hold a referendum.” Would it surprise you to learn that the People of Taiwan don’t want a referendum? Chen’s euphemistically-named “defensive referendum” does not represent the Will of the People of Taiwan. It represents the Will of Chen Shui-bian, a petty dictator who is abusing the power of his office to ram independence down the throats of a patriotic, pro-reunification majority on Taiwan.
Chen’s Referendum is His Referendum, Not Taiwan’s
The referendum would ask voters whether Taiwan should buy more anti-missile equipment if China fails to withdraw nearly 500 missiles pointed at the island. A second question would ask if Taipei should open talks with Beijing to set up a framework for peaceful ties.
— Taiwan’s Chen Says Ballot Won’t Affect Missile Deal
Reuters, February 19, 2004
The upcoming March 20, 2004 referendum is Chen’s referendum, not Taiwan’s referendum. A January 16 public opinion poll conducted by TVBS, a widely-watched cable television network, revealed that 53% of the public on Taiwan considers Chen’s “defensive referendum” an indefensible waste of taxpayers’ money, 18% were undecided, while a mere 30% considers it necessary.
Update: The TVBS/Mitofsky Exit Poll results were eventually posted. [traditional Chinese]
A democratic majority of the Chinese people on Taiwan oppose Chen’s referendum. Only Chen and a minority of Taiwan independence zealots want Chen’s referendum. Chen of course knows this. That’s why he has resorted to naked coercion, forcing voters to take part in his referendum whether they want to or not. Chen wants his referendum so badly he is willing to alienate even Bush Junior, the man who declared he was willing to “do whatever it took [sic]” to “defend Taiwan’s democracy.”
Because Chen is running scared. He can see the handwriting on the wall; he can taste the bitterness of defeat. Professional bookies on Taiwan are predicting that the pro reunification ticket of Lien/Soong will defeat the pro independence ticket of Chen/Lu by one million votes. In other words, if you bet on Lien/Soong, they must win by one million votes or you lose your bet. Chen is desperately hoping his referendum will increase turnout among pro independence voters just enough to ensure his reelection.
Disaffected Taiwan independence elders Li Hong-hsi and Koo Kuan-min meanwhile, have been demanding an accounting. “You’ve been in office four years. You’ve made zero progress toward Taiwan independence. Your economic failures have alienated middle of the road voters. Now you’re about to hand power back to the damned reunificationists! Why the hell did we endorse you?”
In the likely event Chen loses in 2004, he wants to be able to tell these influential kingmakers “Look at what I accomplished! An historic first for Taiwan! My referendum in 2004 sets a legal precedent for a referendum on formal independence in 2008. I deserve a second chance.”
Chen’s open defiance of Bush II took many “China experts” by surprise. They were disoriented because they they never bothered to understand A-Bian and the Taiwan independence nomenklatura. They swallowed their own simplistic characterizations of anyone who makes trouble for the CCP and even the pro reunification majority on Taiwan, as “A Good Guy in a White Hat,” to wit: the Dalai Lama, Lee Teng-hui, Chen Shui-bian, even Martin Lee.
Reality Check: Chen is not a Taiwanese Aung San Suu Kyi. Chen is a Taiwanese Pauline Hanson. In addition to being a petty bigot, Chen is a selfish opportunist. Chen’s insatiable power lust and wild mood swings remind one of that miserable subhuman creature from the Lord of the Rings, the Gollum.
Chen’s Imperial Presidency means everything to him. If he loses that, he’s lost it all. So why would he give a damn about anything else, even continued US backing for Taiwan independence? As long as he clings to power, he can always patch things up with Washington afterwards. As long as he still occupies the Presidential Palace in March, whoever occupies the White House in November will have no choice but to deal with him.
Chen’s Referendum is Autocratic, Not Democratic
Referenda may be bottom-up or top-down. Bottom-up referenda are initiated by ordinary citizens at the grass roots. Top-down referenda are initiated by government officials at the top of the political pyramid. To make an exceedingly complex issue exceedingly simple: bottom-up referenda are sometimes good, but top-down referenda are always bad. The political “leaders” of most nations already wield far too much power, legally delegated or illegally usurped. They hardly need more ways of imposing their will on a disenfranchised public.
Genuine democracies like Switzerland require referenda to be held separately from scheduled elections, as much as six months apart, in order to prevent them being misused as tools for electioneering. Chen Shiu-bian, by contrast, is resorting to every deceitful, underhanded tactic imaginable to link the two events together. Referendum voting is to take place on the same date, at the same place, in the same room, even at the same desk as the presidential election.
Chen’s referendum is nothing more than an extravagantly costly soap box on which Chen can demagogue cross straits issues at taxpayer expense. To provoke a backlash from Beijing, Chen determined the political content of the referenda. To foreordain the outcome of the referenda, Chen chose its wording. To boost his chances for reelection, Chen set the date of the referenda to coincide with election day.
Chen’s Referendum is Illegal
Chen had no authority to call his referendum. The ROC legislators who authored the Referendum Law have roundly denounced Chen for flouting both the letter and the intent of Article 17, which authorizes the president to initiate a referendum only when the country is faced with an external threat that could interfere with national sovereignty. The ROC legislators who authored the Referendum Law have also denounced Chen for flouting both the letter and the intent of Article 24, which specifically prohibits the president from holding a referendum on the same day as an election.
Chen claims “496 missiles pointed at Taiwan” constitute a Clear and Present Danger that authorize him to invoke Article 17. But if Chen actually believes this, why is he waiting around until election day? Shouldn’t he be demanding an emergency referendum NOW, before those 496 missiles rain down on Taipei, Taichung, and Tainan? Even Chen doesn’t believe his own rationalization. Why should anybody else?
Has any of this stopped Chen? As Chen told reporters, “Mei you fa yuan ye ke yi ban gong tou!” (“I don’t need a legal basis to hold a referendum.”) “All I need is an Executive Order.” Upon which Chen’s goons in the Executive Yuan swooped down on the nominally neutral Central Election Commission and virtually took over its operation.
Chen’s Referendum is Hitlerian
Chen’s referendum is an all too familiar example of an Imperial Executive performing an end run around constitutional checks on its power. Chen’s two top-down referenda, rammed down the throats of Chinese citizens on Taiwan, have ignominious historical roots, echoing four remarkably similar top-down referenda Adolph Hitler rammed down the throats of German citizens during the 1930s. Chen’s ubiquitous “Yes! Taiwan” posters even remind one of Hitler’s “Ja!” posters. The resemblance would be amusing if it wasn’t so disturbing.
Taiwan’s ruling party have put Hitler in their adverts — Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has said a television advertisement featuring Adolf Hitler and aimed at getting young people to participate in forthcoming elections is not meant to offend Jews.
Hitler analogies have been invoked so frequently, so cavalierly, and so sloppily, they are now worthless currency. This columnist, unlike so many others, is not crying wolf. As DPP Public Relations Director Phoenix Cheng explained to furious Anti-Defamation League representatives, Hitler was chosen as a role model “because he dared to speak his own mind.” Hitler had “po li” or “strength of will,” therefore an apology was neither required nor offered. Alas Cheng’s “explanation” explained more about the samurai fascist mentality of Taiwan independence demagogues Lee Teng-hui and Chen Shui-bian than Cheng realized or intended.
Chen’s Referendum is Naked Coercion
Given Chen’s fait accompli, the voting public on Taiwan has been desperately trying to figure out how NOT to take part in the upcoming referenda. Endless debates rage daily on how to defy Chen’s compulsory referendum. Suggestions bandied back and forth include: refusing to accept the referendum ballots, deliberately defacing them so as to turn them into invalid ballots, and deliberately voting “No” instead of the “Yes” Chen is attempting to coerce voters into casting.
Election officials were originally ordered to thrust the two referendum ballots into the voter’s hand, right along with the presidential ballot, as an All or Nothing, Take ’em or Leave ’em proposition. This flagrantly coercive policy touched off a firestorm of protest, so the “progressive democrats” of the Democratic Progressive Party backed off, but only halfway.
Now the voter can refuse to take the referenda ballots, but only by announcing out loud, “I don’t want the referenda ballots,” compromising the voter’s right to a secret ballot. If the voter isn’t aware of this provision, or is slow to speak up, the referenda ballots are shoved into the voter’s hand by default. Once that happens they may not be returned. They’re yours whether you want them or not, and count toward the 50% turnout threshold A-Bian needs to spin his referenda as “an historic event in the annals of democracy.” Even if the voter tries to make the best of the situation by checking “No,” his right to abstain from Chen’s Potemkin Referendum altogether has already been compromised.
Numerous local governments, including the Taipei Municipal Government, have announced that out of respect for the rights of the voting public, they intend to use either separate rooms or separate sides of the same room for the two votes.
The Chen regime’s reaction to these perfectly reasonable measures was highly revealing. Executive Yuan spokesman Lin Jia-long, the Joseph Goebbels of the Chen Regime, immediately issued a stern warning: Any local official who deviated one iota from Chen’s guidelines would be punished to the fullest extent of the law, and the administration had many laws it could choose from. Chen then declared that two nations stood on either side of the Taiwan Straits, and anyone who didn’t vote “Yes” to his “defensive referendum” was a communist collaborator who belonged to the other side.
Wow. That’ll show the international community how much the Taiwan independence movement respects democratic dissent.
Newsflash! Inquiring minds want to know. Were the fantastic rumors true? Would presidential election and referendum ballots actually bear serial numbers, enabling the government to confirm the identities of voters and which way they voted? What was Central Election Committee Chairman Huang Shi-cheng’s answer? “No decision yet. The possibility is still being studied.” For the record Huang was probably not the real villain. He “was only following orders.”
Is this surreal enough for you? No? Then consider Chen’s latest electoral sleight of hand. Chen has ordered the Central Election Commission to remove any referendum ballot cast in protest from the total vote tally. Chen’s “creative accounting” will allow his referendum to look as if it meets the 50% threshold when in fact it doesn’t.
Will Neocon Chickenhawks who swear to “do whatever it takes” to “defend Taiwan’s democracy” [translation: sabotage China’s reunification] explain what Taiwan’s Kafkaesque dictatorship has to do with “democracy?” Will the government mouthpiece known as the Taipei Times?
Don’t make me laugh.
Chen’s Referendum is Irrelevant
“If the people in Taiwan agree with what the president proposed… the referendum will have a binding effect on the government… The peace referendum is of course necessary.”
— Joseph Wu, Deputy Secretary General to President Chen
Taipei Times, February 4, 2004
“Whether or not this referendum is passed… ongoing arms purchase items… will go ahead.”
— Chen Shui-bian, President
Reuters, February 19, 2004
You read that right. Chen intends to ignore the outcome of his own referendum. Chen intends to shell out NT$700 billion of Taiwan taxpayers’ money to US arms dealers even if the result of the referendum Chen himself demanded is “Don’t buy weapons!”
So much for the “binding effect on the government” voters were promised. So much for the “preventive/defensive/peace referendum” being “of course necessary.”
Is it any wonder millions of ROC voters are adamantly refusing to take part in Chen’s bogus referendum? Why should they? They know perfectly well their desperate hopes for cross-straits peace mean nothing, while A-Bian’s imperial edict means everything. Why should they pretend they approve the squandering of $700 million NT of their tax money on an empty gesture that could provoke a bloody war?
This is where 23 million ROC citizens on Taiwan have ended up, after enduring 16 years of shrill sanctimony from Taiwan independence quislings about how they, unlike Beijing, respected the Will of the People of Taiwan. Did you think I was exaggerating when I accused Taiwan independence demagogues Lee Teng-hui and Chen Shui-bian of being “elective dictators?”
Chen Shui-bian concocted his illegal referendum in part as a public relations pitfall for Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao. When Hu and Wen characterize Chen’s Potemkin Referendum as the meaningless farce that it is, Chen will accuse them of contempt for the People of Taiwan.
In an ironic twist worthy of Rod Serling’s “Twilight Zone,” Chen’s duplicity has backfired. The harsh spotlight of public attention is now on A-Bian, and it is “Son of Taiwan” Chen Shui-bian who is betraying his undisguised contempt for the People of Taiwan.