Nuclear vote blocked in legislature standoff

08/02/2013 11:13 PM
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Taipei, Aug. 2 (CNA) After a day of confrontation and scuffles at the Legislative Yuan, opposition lawmakers succeeded Friday in blocking a vote on whether to allow a referendum to decide the fate of Taiwan's controversial fourth nuclear power plant, with both sides vowing to continue their struggle into next week and longer if necessary.

Ker Chien-ming, a caucus whip of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), said they will continue their vote-blocking tactic until after Aug. 6, the earliest date when the Legislature -- which is holding an extraordinary session -- can have a vote on the motion to hold a referendum.

"It's for real," Ker said, pledging his party will prolong the "battle front" till next Tuesday, when the next plenary session is scheduled.

Violent scuffles erupted between lawmakers of the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) and their DPP counterparts in the Legislative Yuan Friday as the KMT tried to seize control of the podium that has been occupied by the opposition since the previous evening.

DPP legislators brought sleeping bags and supplies onto the legislative floor and started to build a "perimeter" around the podium, which the KMT lawmakers tried all day Friday to take without success.

Several lawmakers sustained bruises or sprained muscles during scuffles that saw people wrestling on the legislative floor and plastic bottles and water being thrown.

Failing to have the planned vote take place, KMT caucus whip Lin Hung-chih said the party's lawmakers will keep launching attacks on DPP's control of the podium.

"I wonder for how long the DPP can sleep (in the chamber)," Lin argued.

KMT Legislator Lai Shyh-bao, also a caucus whip, said they will arrange six shifts with each comprising 15-20 people for the mission to break through the DPP's grip.

And if the vote is still not able to take place on Aug. 6, they will try to press the Legislature to hold a third extraordinary session before summer break ends in September.

With 64 of all 113 legislative seats, the KMT is expected to carry the day if its members are able to take control of the podium and proceed with the vote.

The DPP lawmakers took over the podium in order to prevent such a vote on the KMT-proposed motion to hold a referendum on the controversial nuclear plant project.

In the referendum, the people will be asked whether they agree that construction of the No. 4 Nuclear Power Plant should be stopped and that the plant should not be allowed to operate.

The DPP caucus insists that the project should be scrapped without the referendum. It has criticized Taiwan's referendum laws for having too high a threshold to ever yield a "yes" answer or to even become valid.

According to Taiwan's Referendum Act, a referendum can only be passed if half of all eligible voters cast ballots and more than half of the ballots cast support the measure.

The proposal is vetoed if the number of voters who cast ballots does not reach the threshold or the measure does not get majority support.

Taiwan has never passed a referendum. It has put six national referendum questions to voters since the Referendum Act came into effect in January 2004, and all have fallen short of the 50 percent participation threshold, despite being held in conjunction with national elections in 2004 and 2008.

Also on Friday, nearly 100 activists protesting against Taiwan's fourth nuclear power plant staged a demonstration in front of the Legislative Yuan, urging the government to immediately stop work on the almost-completed project.

Members of the Taiwan Anti-Nuclear Action League waved posters and placards and shouted slogans to express their desire for the project to be scrapped.

Taiwan Environmental Protection Union founding Chairman Shih Hsin-min noted that the project has been plagued with flaws and errors since construction began in 1999 and he expressed concern over the quality of the plant, which is situated in a coastal area of densely-populated New Taipei City.

If such a facility is allowed to operate, it will pose a major threat to the lives and properties of many people, he warned, urging the Legislature to bring up a resolution aimed at stopping the nuclear power plant's construction immediately.

The Taiwan Anti-Nuclear Action League, meanwhile, said that if KMT lawmakers insist that a referendum should be held, they should at least provide reports of the plant's construction quality to prove that the project is worthy of continued spending.

The government should also promote an amendment to the Referendum Act to loosen the requirements for a referendum to be passed, the league said.

(By Chen Wei-ting, Tzeng Ying-yu and Elizabeth Hsu)ENDITEM/cs

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