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Referendum petition on name change passes signature threshold: CEC

2018/10/08 15:14:34

Taipei, Oct. 8 (CNA) A petition calling for a national referendum on whether Taiwan should compete in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics under the name "Taiwan" instead of "Chinese Taipei" has gathered more than the required number of signatures to put it on a public ballot, the Central Election Committee (CEC) said Monday.

The CEC said it will hold a meeting Tuesday to review the petition and if the proposal is approved, the referendum will be held alongside the local government elections on Nov. 24.

If approved, the referendum will ask the question, "Do you agree Taiwan should use the name 'Taiwan' to participate in the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo and all other international sporting events."

According to the CEC, household registration authorities have verified 429,395 valid signatures on the referendum petition, which required a minimum of 281,745 to get on the ballot.

A total of 515,959 signatures were submitted in September and the authorities rejected 5,685, which they could not verify, the CEC said.

The petition on the name change for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics was spearheaded by Chi Cheng (紀政), a track and field athlete who won a bronze medal in the 1968 Olympics.

Due to political factors, Taiwan has been forced to compete in international sporting events under the name "Chinese Taipei," and its athletes are not permitted to carry their national flag at such competitions.

Li Hsiu-ling (李秀玲), head of the international affairs division in Taiwan's Sports Administration, said the agency will respect the results of the referendum on the name change for the Tokyo Olympics.

The Sports Administration and the Chinese Taipei Olympic Committee (CTOC) have repeatedly told the international community that it is nothing unusual for a democracy like Taiwan to hold a referendum for the public to express its opinions on issues, she said.

In May, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) sent a letter to the CTOC, saying that the name, emblem, flag and anthem of Taiwan's team at the Olympics was agreed on many years ago in the Nagoya Resolution and an agreement between the IOC and the Chinese Taipei Olympic Committee (CTOC) in Switzerland in 1981.

The IOC further said its Executive Board had confirmed that the agreement remained in place and was fully applicable.

Meanwhile, the CEC said several other referendum proposals have also garnered the required number of signatures and will be reviewed at its meeting on Tuesday.

Among them is a proposal for a referendum on same-sex marriage, which seeks to ask whether civil law should define marriage as solely between a man and a woman, and another on whether sex-education in schools should include information about homosexuality.

In May 2017, Taiwan's Constitutional Court struck down the legal definition of marriage as "between a man and a woman" as unconstitutional and gave the Legislature a timeframe of two years to make legal provisions for same-sex marriage.

If the Legislature failed to do so within the two-year period, same-sex marriage rights would automatically take effect, the court ruled, putting Taiwan on track to become the first Asian country to legalize gay marriage.

However, anti-gay marriage groups in Taiwan have initiated two proposals with the aim of blocking such a development and a third proposal to disallow same-sex education in schools.

Other referendum proposals submitted to the CEC with the required number of signatures include two on environmental issues.

They propose to ask whether the government should halt its plans to build or expand coal-fired power plants and whether it should maintain its ban on food and agricultural imports from Fukushima and nearby areas in Japan that were affected by nuclear leaks after a strong earthquake there in 2011.

A third proposal on an environmental issue was approved by the CEC on Oct. 2 and will be put to referendum on Nov. 24 alongside the local government elections.

Put forward by opposition Kuomintang lawmaker Lu Shiow-yen (盧秀燕), it will ask whether the electricity output of thermal power plants should be lowered annually "by at least 1 percent on average."

A Cabinet decision in March to reopen a decommissioned coal-fired plant in Shen'ao, New Taipei, to cope with growing electricity demand has been heavily criticized as contrary to the government's environmental and energy policies, including its goals to reduce carbon emissions.

On Oct. 5, Premier Lai Ching-te (賴清德) raised the possibility of scrapping the much-criticized Shen'ao power plant, but only if another environmentally controversial energy project, to build third liquefied natural gas (LNG) receiving terminal to support more gas-fired generators, is allowed to proceed to completion.

The slew of referendum proposals have been put forth in the wake of an amendment to the Referendum Act in 2017, which lowered the threshold for the number of signatures on a petition in the first stage to 0.01 percent of the electorate, and 1.5 percent in the second stage.

It means that only 1,879 signatures are now required in the first stage of a referendum drive and 281,745 in the second stage, based on the electorate of 18,782,991 in the 2016 presidential election.

(By Lee Shu-hua and Frances Huang)
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