Tsai’s high stakes on Taiwan’s upcoming referendum

Author: Bill Sharp, Honolulu Taiwan will vote on four referendum items on 18 December, the result of which could make or break the remainder of President Tsai Ing-wen’s time in office. The referendum was rescheduled from 28 August by the Central Election Commission due to the spread of COVID-19 in Taiwan. Taiwan is now at […] The post Tsai’s high stakes on Taiwan’s upcoming referendum first appeared on East Asia Forum.

Tsai’s high stakes on Taiwan’s upcoming referendum

Author: Bill Sharp, Honolulu

Taiwan will vote on four referendum items on 18 December, the result of which could make or break the remainder of President Tsai Ing-wen’s time in office. The referendum was rescheduled from 28 August by the Central Election Commission due to the spread of COVID-19 in Taiwan.

Taiwan is now at level three of its four-level warning system, resulting in an island-wide soft lockdown. While 31 per cent of the population have received one inoculation against COVID-19, only 1.6 per cent are fully vaccinated. Further complicating the situation, Taiwan is wrestling with a spike in infections due to the Delta variant.

Looking for ways to win back public support, the opposition Nationalist Party (KMT) led the organisation of the four referendum issues. Concerned that the COVID-19 situation would keep voters at home, the KMT had hoped for a rescheduled referendum. A higher voter turnout could glean the KMT additional support that they could carry into the 2022 local elections, known as the nine-in-one elections (NIOE), and the 2024 presidential and legislative elections.

The referendum will deal with four issues: nuclear power, the Datan algal reef, US pork imports and future referendum dates.

The first question is concerned with the future of nuclear power in Taiwan. The island’s power infrastructure is out of date and a shortage of power has negatively impacted the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corporation, a key driver of Taiwan’s high-tech economy. The lack of adequate power is concerning other companies that are looking at Taiwan as a potential investment destination.

The ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is committed to a policy of eliminating nuclear energy by 2025. Those opposed to nuclear power are fearful that an accident similar to the Fukushima Daichi meltdown in 2011 could happen in Taiwan if it doesn’t wean itself off nuclear power.

Meanwhile the KMT supports nuclear power and cites periodic blackouts, growing energy costs and increased electricity demand as reasons to support continued nuclear power generation.

To increase energy security, the DPP has in part turned to liquefied natural gas (LNG). To store the LNG, the DPP wants to construct an LNG terminal on a reef home to a variety of aquatic wildlife including endangered species. Whether to do so is the second question being brought to the people.

The DPP has typically argued for environmental protection while the KMT is not traditionally seen as a pro-environmental party. But in this case it is the KMT that’s concerned with the protection of Datan algal reef. Perhaps in recognition of the contradictions at play, the DPP has already proposed finding another location for the terminal.

Turning to the third issue, the DPP’s largest referendum struggle could well be the question of US pork imports treated with ractopamine, an additive that enhances leanness. Taiwanese voters are health conscious and previous food safety scams have made them wary.

In August 2020, the Tsai administration elicited wide scale public dismay when it overturned a longstanding import ban on US pork (and some beef parts) in the hope of adding momentum for a free trade agreement with the United States.

Taiwan has a long history of robust civil protest. The outcome of the pork question could spark demonstrations that may adversely impact the ongoing (and oft-stalled) Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) negotiations with the United States. Tsai is hoping that the TIFA negotiations will lead to a US free trade agreement, seen as being crucial in the effort to reduce export dependence on China. A ‘no’ to ractopamine will endanger these negotiations and damage the DPP’s image in the run up to the 2022 NIOE and the 2024 presidential and legislative elections.

During the 2018 NIOE, the KMT benefitted from the scheduling of a referendum alongside the elections. Given that the KMT benefitted from both the election and referendum results, the KMT has sought to weaponise referendums in an effort to make itself more politically competitive. Whether to hold referendums on election days is the fourth question in the upcoming December referendum.

The DPP strategy is to have referendums voted on separately from other elections to avoid a situation similar to the one it experienced in 2018. With its control of the legislature, the DPP can pass any law it wants.

Referendums take control of the lawmaking process out of their hands. To wrest back control, the DPP is looking to hold future referendums separate to elections.

Given the 25 per cent turnout threshold needed for the passage of any referendum, the KMT is looking to achieve concurrent voting to maximise voter turnout in future referendums. The DPP has already squelched a joint attempt by the KMT, New Power Party and Taiwan People’s Party to establish absentee voting.

In the run up to the December referendum, polling suggests that the DPP is in an unenviable position. If the KMT prevails on all four questions, it will strengthen their influence. A KMT sweep could also lead to the resignation of Premier Su Tseng-chang. This would be a loss for the DPP as Su is a highly experienced and effective premier with island-wide connections. A poor result for the DPP at this referendum has the potential not only to cast Tsai as a lame duck but could also ripple into the 2022 NIOE and the 2024 presidential and legislative elections.

Bill Sharp is an independent researcher based in Honolulu.

The post Tsai’s high stakes on Taiwan’s upcoming referendum first appeared on East Asia Forum.
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Cambodia Jails Activists Over 2020 Paris Peace Petitions

The nine had pressed Paris Peace Agreement signatories to recognize Hun Sen’s violations of the 1991 pact.

Cambodia Jails Activists Over 2020 Paris Peace Petitions

A Cambodian court on Monday sentenced nine activists, including a lawmaker from the outlawed main opposition party, to prison terms ranging from 12 to 20 months on incitement charges for issuing pro-democracy petitions last year, the daughter of one of the defendants said.

Police arrested the seven opposition activists in October and December 2020 on incitement charges for staging a protest in front of the Chinese Embassy in the capital Phnom Penh last Oct. 23, the 29th anniversary of the singing of the Paris Peace Agreement, marking the official end of the Cambodian-Vietnamese War.

During the demonstration, they tried to submit petitions to the embassies of China, France, and the United States, saying that Cambodia had violated the democratic principles set forth in the Paris Peace Agreement.

Shortly after the arrests, Prime Minister Hun Sen publicly accused lawmaker Ho Van, an opposition official now living in California, of instigating the protests.

Shortly before the verdict was announced at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, one of the detained activists, Lim San, complained about the violation of detainees’ rights, lack of treatment for ill prisoners, and verbal abuse by guards in Prey Sar Prison where she is serving pre-trial detention, said her daughter Phan Sat.

The judge ignored her comments and read the verdicts for former Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) lawmaker Ho Vann and activist San Seihak, who is now living exile in Thailand, to 20 months in prison for instigating incitement to cause serious social unrest, Phan Sat said.

Four activists — Hong An, Lim San, Yoy Sreymom, and Ton Nimol — were each sentenced to 18 months in jail for incitement to commit serious social unrest, she said. The three other activists — Pai Ren, Sann Srey Neat, and Sat Pha, were sentenced to 12 months in prison on the same charges.

The judge told the seven activists, who were fined two million riel (U.S. $483) each, that they could file appeals if they were dissatisfied with the verdict.

Phan Sat, who attended the trial, said that the judge’s ruling was unfair. She maintains that her mother was acting legally during the protest and demanded that the court drop the charges and release all the activists.

“I want [her] to appeal because I do not agree with the verdict,” she said. “My mother is innocent. She had done nothing wrong.”

RFA could not reach defense lawyer Sam Sokong for comment.

He previously said that his clients’ protests are a guaranteed form of freedom of expression under Cambodia’s constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The multinational treaty states that everyone has the rights to hold opinions without interference and to freedom of expression.

Civil society groups say that those who participated in the peaceful protest in front of the Chinese embassy were expressing their opinion.

Heng Kimhong, head of the research and advocacy program of the Cambodian Youth Network (CYN), urged the court to reconsider the convictions and sentences and said that unjust detentions would seriously affect human rights.

“Perhaps because they [the defendants] understood that since China was an important signatory to the 1991 Paris Peace Agreement that upheld human rights, democracy, and freedom of expression, they had gathered in front of the Chinese Embassy to demand that [China recognize Hun Sen's violations of the pact],” he said. “Their protests and demands are not a crime.”

Cambodia’s Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP in November 2017, two months after the arrest of its leader Kem Sokha for his role in an alleged scheme to topple Hun Sen’s government. The ban, along with a wider crackdown on NGOs and the independent media, paved the way for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party to win the country’s 2018 general elections.

Former CNRP lawmakers, political opposition activists, their relatives, and their supporters still face backlashes. Since early 2020, more than 80 political, environmental, and social activists, including a popular rapper, have been imprisoned on incitement charges as Hun Sen’s government seeks to silence its critics.

Written by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sum Sok Ry. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

Source : Radio Free Asia More   

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