Taiwan, Asia’s leading democracy, cannot escape Beijing’s watchful gaze

Cary Huang says Taiwan’s referendum last month makes it the undisputed champion of direct democracy in the region, with inevitable implications on its domestic politics and already tense cross-strait relations

South China Morning Post 
Date: 05 December, 2018 
By: Cary Huang

Taiwan, Asia’s leading democracy, cannot escape Beijing’s watchful gaze

Compared with the mature democracies in the liberal West, Taiwan is still an infant given that it only held its first full multiparty legislative elections in 1992 and the first direct presidential election in 1996. Nevertheless, the self-ruled island has made strides in its democratic development and has now become the undisputed champion of direct democracy in Asia.

In local elections held on November 24, Taiwanese exercised their right to cast their ballot on 10 divisive issues, ranging from same-sex marriage and LGBT rights, to nuclear energy and food safety. It was one of the most extensive referendums held in the world.

The legislature enacted the Referendum Act in 1993, granting citizens the rights to both initiate new laws and repeal existing ones through holding a referendum. While several island-wide and local referendums have been held in the past, none succeeded, as the law contained many hurdles, including high thresholds and strict procedures.

Revisions to the law last year led to the roll-out of one of the most citizen-friendly systems in the world. The new law reduced the required number of signatures in the first stage of proposing a referendum from 0.1 per cent to 0.01 per cent of the electorate, and from 5 per cent to 1.5 per cent in the second stage of collecting supporting signatures. This is a lower threshold than in Switzerland, the world’s haven of direct democracy, where 100,000 signatures, or about 2 per cent of eligible voters, are needed to trigger a citizen-initiated referendum.    [FULL  STORY]

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