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Election commission to respect any decision on referendum

2013/03/01 22:05:18

Taipei, March 1 (CNA) The Central Election Commission (CEC) declared Friday it will respect any referendum on a controversial nuclear power plant initiated by the Legislative Yuan amid heated debate over the phrasing of the question that may be put to voters.

The commission, which is responsible for holding the country's elections, is obligated under Taiwan's Referendum Act to hold a referendum once a referendum initiative is passed by the Legislature.

Teng Tien-yu, the commission's secretary-general, said Thursday that based on past experience in organizing referendums, the question voters should respond to would be one that "can change the status quo."

Otherwise, there would be no reason to hold a referendum, he was cited by local media as saying.

The remarks were controversial because they appeared to side with the ruling Kuomintang's desired version of the question, which would ask voters if work on the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant should be halted.

Opposition Democratic Progressive Party legislators said the question should ask voters whether construction on the project should be continued.

They argued that the KMT's question would almost guarantee that work on the project would continue because the referendum is not likely to be passed under existing thresholds for valid referendums in Taiwan.

The commission defended Teng on Friday, saying he was simply trying to explain how a referendum works based on referendums held since 2004, the year after the Referendum Act was passed.

CEC Chairwoman Chang Po-ya was quoted as saying by a local newspaper Friday that the issue of how the question is phrased has "nothing to do" with the CEC. "We just accept it," she said.

Meanwhile, KMT Legislator Chang Ching-chung urged the Cabinet to launch a thorough investigation into the nuclear power project, blaming the longstanding dispute over its viability on the safety concerns people have about it.

People's fears have been triggered by the way the plant was built, Chang said, referring to the fact that the state-run Taiwan Power Co. (Taipower) is acting as the main contractor of the project, responsible for the plant's overall design and coordinating the work among many suppliers.

The project involves dozens of subcontracts, Chang said, calling it a "very big benefit transfer."

The recent retirement of Chiu Teh-cheng from his post as head of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant's construction department has also fueled public concern.

Chiu applied for retirement in February, effective March 1.

Taipower spokesman Lee Hung-chou said Friday that Chiu's retirement was made for personal reasons, but he would not disclose any further details on what led the executive to leave.

Lee said, however, that if there were any flaws in the project from Chiu's time as head of the plant's construction, Chiu would still be held accountable.

"The company will handle that (possibility) based on relevant regulations," he said.

(By Hsieh Chia-chen, Chen Wei-ting, Lin Meng-ju and Elizabeth Hsu)