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Support for absentee voting in nuclear referendum gains momentum

2013/03/05 17:17:45

Taipei, March 5 (CNA) New Taipei Mayor Eric Chu's proposal to allow absentee voting in a planned referendum on the controversial fourth nuclear power plant has been backed by Premier Jiang Yi-huah and the head of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

Chu, who made the proposal Monday, said the focus of the referendum debate should not be on lowering the thresholds needed for it to be valid, as advocated by the DPP, but rather on absentee voting to get more people to the polls.

The referendum should allow as many people as possible to have a say on whether they want a nuclear-free homeland or accept the new nuclear power plant, which is located in Gongliao, New Taipei, Chu contended.

He said the greater Taipei area has many migrant workers whose households are not registered there, which means they would have to travel home to vote.

"If absentee voting can be put into practice, it can help increase the turnout rate and the interest of voters going to the polls," Chu said Tuesday.

Premier Jiang Yi-huah said he "totally agreed with the idea," noting that he promoted absentee voting during his term as interior minister, and called it a legitimate channel for expanding public participation.

President Ma Ying-jeou also supported the idea of absentee voting, and DPP Chairman Su Tseng-chang said that to help voters exercise their civil rights, absentee voting is a "possible direction for consideration."

Under Taiwan's Referendum Act, 50 percent of eligible voters must cast ballots for the vote to be valid.

Opposition parties consider the threshold to be too high, and the DPP has advocated lowering it to 25 percent, but Jiang reiterated his view Tuesday that "the threshold should not be too low."

The Ministry of the Interior has promoted absentee voting for many years and has studied the possibility of allowing people to transfer their household registrations to their places of work and study to exercise their voting rights.

A public opinion poll published by the ministry in October 2010 showed that 78 percent of Taiwanese were in favor of absentee voting, with support for the idea highest among younger and better educated voters.

Taiwan has previously voted on six referendum questions held in conjunction with national elections in 2004 and 2008, but none of them met the 50 percent voter turnout threshold, in part because many voters saw the initiatives as political ploys.

This time, however, the proposed referendum will not be held in conjunction with any other major elections, and Jiang said the people will be able to have a rational discussion on a major public policy project.

The premier said that if the people decide to halt the construction of the nearly complete nuclear power plant in New Taipei, he "will accept the result squarely."

He also vowed that if the fourth nuclear power plant completes construction and begins operations, it will be the last nuclear power plant built in Taiwan.

(By Chen Hsun-hsieh, Hsieh Chia-chen and Lilian Wu)