Taiwan, a country of 23 million people and one of Australia’s largest trading partners, recently conducted a series of referenda on questions of vital importance to the future of the country, and of great interest to Australia, including same-sex marriage, nuclear power and the future of coal-fired power generation.
The outcome of the referenda was not reported on the ABC. A search of the ABC website, which includes ABC News, contained no reference to it.
Unlike Australia, where referenda are called by the government of the day, Taiwanese referenda come about as a result of petitions from the people.
Popular referenda have been a central policy of the Democratic People’s Party (DPP), the governing party of Taiwan, whose electoral base comes from native Taiwanese, rather than the Chinese people who fled to Taiwan after the communist seizure of power in China in 1949.
Apart from supporting Taiwanese independence from China, the DPP has also pushed the anti-nuclear and gay-rights agenda, including same-sex marriage.
Taiwan’s law makes provision for a referendum to be conducted if requested by 1.5 per cent of the electorate. A referendum is declared carried if supported by a majority of voters, provided the number of voters exceeds 25 per cent of the electorate.
The recent referenda, held on November 24, 2018, contained 10 questions. These included:
1. Do you agree to reduce by 1 per cent year by year the electricity production of thermal [that is, coal-fired] power plants? Carried with a majority of 79.0 per cent in favour.
2. Do you agree to the establishment of an energy policy to stop construction and expansion of any coal-fired thermal power plants or generator units (including the Shen Ao Power Plant currently under construction)? Carried with a majority of 76.4 per cent in favour.
3. Do you agree that the government should maintain the prohibition of agricultural imports and food from areas affected by the Fukushima Disaster [the melt-down of the Fukushima nuclear power station in March 2011]? Carried with a majority of 77.7 per cent in favour.
4. Do you agree that marriage defined in the Civil Code should be restricted to the union between one man and one woman? Carried with a majority of 72.5 per cent in favour.
5. Do you agree that the Ministry of Education should not implement the Enforcement Rules of the Gender Equality Education Act in elementary and middle schools? Carried with a majority of 67.4 per cent in favour.
6. Do you agree to the protection of the rights of same-sex couples in co-habitation on a permanent basis in ways other than changing of the Civil Code? Carried with a majority of 61.1 per cent in favour.
7. Do you agree to repeal Article 95 Paragraph 1 of the Electricity Act: “Nuclear-energy-based power generating facilities shall wholly stop running by 2025”? Carried with a majority of 59.5 per cent in favour.
The three other questions put to referendum were defeated. They dealt with the use of “Taiwan” when participating in all international sport competitions (55 per cent opposed), protection of same-sex marital rights (67 per cent opposed), and a proposal that national education at all levels should educate students on the importance of gender equality, emotional education, sex education, and same-sex education (66 per cent opposed).
The outcome of the referendum questions, which expressed a desire gradually to reduce coal-fired power generation, but continue to use nuclear energy, should be considered in light of the anti-nuclear campaign by the present Government of Taiwan, following the Fukushima accident in 2011.
It indicates that the Taiwanese people see the importance of continuing to use nuclear power for generating electricity. Currently, there are three nuclear power plants in Taiwan, producing about 8 per cent of the country’s electricity.
Coal produces 46.6 per cent of Taiwan’s power, gas 34.6 per cent, and oil 4.7 per cent. In other words, fossil fuels produce nearly 86 per cent of Taiwan’s power. In contrast, renewables generate less than 5 per cent.
The Taiwanese people’s rejection of same-sex marriage and gender and homosexual education is important because the governing party pushed same-sex marriage, which was imposed on the country by its highest court in 2017.
Taiwan’s High Court ruled last year that provisions in the Civil Code that define marriage as between a man and a woman contravene the constitution, and required that same-sex marriage be made law within two years.
The problem for the present Government is that it was routed in local elections, held in conjunction with the referenda.
Both the referenda and the elections were seen as a test of the standing of Taiwan’s President, Tsai Ing-wen (pictured), who was elected in May 2016. The next national elections (including election for President) will take place in January 2020, just 14 months away.
If you rely on the ABC, you would have to look hard even to know the referenda took place. The briefest mention was tacked on at the end of a long Reuters article about the elections.
For more background on the referenda in Taiwan, please go here.