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Taiwan Government to Seek Repeal of Referendum Law - 2003-12-08

Taiwan's cabinet says it will try to repeal parts of a new referendum law that was watered down by too many compromises. The law has raised tension between Taiwan and China, which fears that Taiwan will use that law to move toward full independence.

Taiwanese cabinet officials announced their repeal efforts to reporters in Taipei Monday.

Taiwan's parliament passed the measure last month, granting the president the right to call referendums on sovereignty issues.

But the law, which was authored mostly by President Chen Shui-bian's political rivals who control the legislature, severely limits his authority. It allows him to call plebiscites only in cases where the island faces an external threat that may jeopardize what the bill terms "national sovereignty." All other referendums must be initiated and approved by lawmakers.

Politics Professor Tai Wan-chin at Taipei's Tamkang University says Monday's announcement appears to be part of a strategy by President Chen to retain momentum among his supporters of his pro-independence party.

"The referendum act that was passed by the parliament was a setback, a frustration to the ruling Democratic Progressive Party," said Professor Tai. "So, Chen [Shui-bian] has to revive the morale on the part of the DPP."

It was not immediately clear what portions of the bill the cabinet would seek to overturn.

At least 112 of the parliament's 223 members would have to vote in favor a repeal. Analysts say getting enough votes would be difficult, since Mr. Chen's allies hold only 100 seats in the legislature.

The issue of sovereignty has been a central theme of Mr. Chen's re-election campaign in the run-up to a national poll in March.

China considers Taiwan part of its territory and Beijing fears that the referendum law may be a move toward independence. Chinese officials have recently stepped up their threats to retake the island by all means necessary if Taipei declares independence.

President Chen has said the referendum bill has nothing to do with independence. But at the same time he has stressed pro-independence themes at various campaign rallies in recent weeks.

Last week, the president said he would use his new powers to call a referendum on whether to demand that China renounce all use of force against Taiwan and withdraw hundreds of missiles Taipei says are pointed at the island. Mr. Chen says holding such a referendum along side the presidential ballot in March will focus world attention on the growing threat communist China poses to Taiwan - which has governed itself since 1949.