Deputy Interior Minister Chen Tsung-yen (???) said Saturday that referendums and general elections are different in essence and should not be lumped together, as he participated in a televised forum with an opposition lawmaker over the issue, ahead of a national referendum next month.
While elections focus more on candidates, referendums are usually about public issues and policies, Chen said in a debate with Kuomintang (KMT) Legislator Johnny Chiang (???).
Scheduling two essentially different processes at the same time will not only mislead voters into perceiving referendums as a confidence vote but will also distract them from discussing and fully understanding the public issues that affect the country's future development, Chen said.
"A referendum should be bipartisan, and there is no win or lose," Chen said. "Given that the results are crucial to the countries' policies, there should be adequate discussion and debate before a referendum."
In his arguments, Chiang, who initiated a campaign for a public vote to allow referendums to be held in conjunction with elections, said it would be more cost-effective and efficient to do so.
A referendum should be a true demonstration of democracy, allowing the people to decide for themselves and voice their discontent with the government, he said.
He accused the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) of taking an approach of political expedience on the issue.
It was the DPP that first advocated for concurrent national referendums and elections, but it amended the Referendum Act to separate the vote when it realized that a referendum might jeopardize its chances of winning a general election, Chiang said.
"That is a double standard," he said.
The purpose of any amendment on the issue should be to make it easier for the people to vote, but separating referendums and elections does just the opposite, he argued.
"The harder you make it for people to vote, the more they will voice their discontent," Chiang said.
Chen argued, however, that in 2018 when a national referendum was held concurrently with local government elections, it was a "miserable experience," as ballots included 10 hastily proposed referendum questions and confused the voters.
On election day, there was chaos at most polling stations, as people had to spend time reading the questions, and this led to late closure of the stations and an increased workload on electoral staff, Chen said.
While most people were paying attention to the election results, "how many of the 10 referendum questions were remembered?" he said.
In contrast, there is more time now for discussion of the issues in the December referendum, and some elected KMT officials have diverted from the party's stance on the timing because it does not affect their reelection chances or their careers, Chen said.
During the forum, each side was allowed to speak for two 12-minute periods to explain their position on the issue, which will be one of the questions in the upcoming referendum.
The question asks: "Do you agree that a referendum should be held concurrently with a national election if it complies with the Referendum Act and if the election is scheduled to take place within six months of the referendum being approved?"
Four other forums - on the issues of nuclear power, pork imports, conservation of algal reefs, and whether future referendums should be held concurrently with national elections - will take place on Nov. 18, Nov. 24, Dec. 2, and Dec. 11, the Central Election Commission (CEC) said.
Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel