KMT submits petition for referendum on government pork policy

09/23/2020 05:18 PM
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KMT Chairman Johnny Chiang (center right) and his staff deliver the signatures they collected to the Central Election Commission. CNA photo Sept. 23, 2020
KMT Chairman Johnny Chiang (center right) and his staff deliver the signatures they collected to the Central Election Commission. CNA photo Sept. 23, 2020

Taipei, Sept. 23 (CNA) The opposition Kuomintang (KMT) submitted a petition Wednesday in the first formal step toward holding a referendum on the government's decision to allow imports of American pork containing a banned livestock drug.

The move comes after President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) announced on Aug. 28 that Taiwan will set standards for residue levels of the livestock drug ractopamine in imported pork and will allow imports of U.S. beef from cattle aged over 30 months, with effect from Jan. 1, 2021.

Speaking at a press conference in front of the Central Election Commission (CEC), KMT Chairman Johnny Chiang (江啟臣) said the party had collected 20,170 signatures for a "food safety" referendum aimed at halting the pork import policy.

It also submitted a second petition containing 12,519 signatures for a ballot on holding referendums in conjunction with national or local elections, he said.

KMT Chairman Johnny Chiang (sixth left) and party members outside the Central Election Commission. CNA photo Sept. 23, 2020
KMT Chairman Johnny Chiang (sixth left) and party members outside the Central Election Commission. CNA photo Sept. 23, 2020

Under Taiwan's Referendum Act, referendums can take place every two years, with the next possible date being Aug. 28, 2021.

In order to hold a national referendum, the petition has to complete two stages.

The first stage requires the signatures of 0.01 percent of voters in the most recent presidential election -- which would be 1,430 people based on the 2020 turnout of 14,300,940 voters.

If the petition reaches the second phase, it will require the signatures of 1.5 percent of voters -- or 214,514 people -- in the most recent presidential election for the referendum to be held.

At the press conference, Chiang said 70 percent of the Taiwanese public oppose the government's policy on pork imports, and called on the CEC to quickly certify the petition so the party can begin the next stage of the referendum process.

While Chiang did not offer a source for the statistic, the 70 percent figure is largely in line with recent public opinion polling on the issue.

A My-Formosa poll of 1,069 people taken before Tsai's announcement, on Aug. 25-26, showed that 73.7 percent of respondents opposed removing restrictions on U.S. pork imports in order to begin talks on a U.S.-Taiwan free trade agreement, while only 17.9 percent were in favor of doing so, and 8.4 percent expressed no opinion.

A TVBS poll of 936 people taken between Aug. 31-Sept. 2 found that 64 percent of respondents opposed allowing imports of U.S. pork, compared to only 22 percent who supported it and 14 percent who had no opinion.

In response, Yen Juo-fang (顏若芳), a spokeswoman for the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), said the DPP "respects" referendums as a constitutional right, but accused the KMT of inconsistency on the issue and of using the referendums solely for political advantage.

KMT lawmakers protest before Premier Su Tseng-chang delivered a report to the Legislature during a recent session. CNA photo Sept. 18, 2020
KMT lawmakers protest before Premier Su Tseng-chang delivered a report to the Legislature during a recent session. CNA photo Sept. 18, 2020

The KMT has gone from opposing referendums, to passing amendments that set unrealistically high thresholds, to now taking advantage of the lower thresholds to repeat the "chaos" of the 2018 referendums, Yen said, referring to the record 10 referendums held that year alongside local elections, which some blamed for long lines at polling stations.

Yen further accused the KMT of opposing the government's efforts to strengthen relations with the United States, and suggested that it was somehow connected to "fake" online news aimed at undermining public confidence on the issue of food safety.

In a statement later that day, Cabinet spokesman Ting Yi-ming (丁怡銘) vowed that U.S. pork imports would not affect Taiwan's local pork industry, and said the government will continue its efforts to win public support for the policy.

In 2019, the DPP-held Legislature passed amendments to the Referendum Act to cease holding referendums in conjunction with national or local elections, and instead hold them on the fourth Saturday of August every two years.

It argued that the changes were necessary to prevent a recurrence of the long waits at polling stations in 2018, but the KMT, which opposed the changes, argued that they would drive down turnout and make it difficult for any referendum to reach the legitimacy threshold.

The Referendum Act requires an initiative to be supported by at least 25 percent of eligible voters and be backed by more than half of the votes cast to be approved.

(By Chen Chun-hua, Yeh Su-ping and Matthew Mazzetta)

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