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The pitfalls of Direct Democracy- Taiwan’s referendum and the vote on nuclear power

How Direct Democracy Went Nuclear in Taiwan, A contentious vote on Taiwan’s nuclear future showed how the country’s public referendums went haywire. The Diplomat , By Nick Aspinwall, January 18, 2019 It only took one month for Huang Shih-hsiu, a 31-year-old nuclear energy advocate, to upend a core energy policy of Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen. The policy, prior to its downfall, stated that Taiwan would decommission its three active nuclear power plants by 2025.

It makes for an entangled web of policy which, ideally, a direct democracy would sort out through a patient and measured process of public debate, consultation with experts, and consensus-building to avoid polarization and finger-pointing. Everyone does seem to agree on one thing, however: This did not happen in Taiwan.

Will the World Learn From Taiwan?

Matt Qvortrup, a professor of political science at Coventry University and leading referendum expert, has watched referendums surge in popularity throughout Europe and, gradually, to corners of the world like Taiwan, whose large-scale plebiscites provided lessons for global democracies in what, or what not, to do.

Qvortrup is a believer in referendums, but with conditions. “Democracy is discussion and deliberation,” he says, and that does not happen when voters are rushed to the polls. “To have meaningful democracy,” he says, “you need to have time to debate things.” Taiwan’s CEC-sanctioned TV debates were held in a cramped three-week window – five public forums each for 10 referendum questions.

He noted that debate on the high-interest issue of same-sex marriage dominated much of Taiwan’s already congested pre-referendum discourse, drowning out interest in the intricacies of energy policy. “That’s bad, because people will be voting on things they haven’t had the opportunity to talk about,” Qvortrup says.

Chao of RSPRC agrees, saying there was far from enough time for voters to have an informed debate. Shortly after the referendum, his center published a study showing that voters were not informed on nuclear power – most were unaware of the details of Tsai’s phaseout proposal, and 44 percent believed nuclear power provides most of the island’s energy. (It produces just over 8 percent, far behind coal-fired power.)

“For democracy to work, it has to be limited to relatively few issues,” says Qvortrup. “If you have too many issues on the ballot, people just get saturated. They turn off, they can’t be bothered. You need to save up your civic reserves.”

Taiwan’s nuclear power plebiscite was not even the only energy-related measure on the ballot: Two separate measures, both successful, called for Taiwan to reduce thermal power and stop expansion of coal-fired power plants. A measure to maintain Taiwan’s ban on food imports from the Fukushima disaster area also passed, angering Japan.

The team at Cofacts, a collaborative social media fact-checking platform that monitored online discussion leading up to the referendums, says it observed a combination of disinformation and voter apathy ahead of the energy plebiscites. “In comparison to other issues, nuclear power was one of the less popular topics,” writes Rosalind, a Cofacts editor, in an open response to questions from The Diplomat. “Even when people talked about it, they were actually talking about air pollution, reducing thermal power generation plants, new alternative energy, and polluted foods.” This did not allow voters to consider the nuances of the issues, such as whether Taiwan does in fact face a looming electricity shortage, says Rosalind.

“The people wanted to be on the ‘winning’ side of these yes/no questions, even though most of them did not know the referendum topics until the day of the election,” says Cofacts founder Johnson Liang. He notes that online discussion on nuclear power paled in comparison to talk of the same-sex marriage referendums. “There were way too many topics to vote [on] within a timespan that is too short, and they did not have time to follow the television debates.”

It takes a resonant message to cut through an overload of information and mangled discourse, and Huang Shih-hsiu had one: Nuclear Mythbusters ran with the slogan “Nuclear energy is green energy,” sizing it up against a future coal-fired dystopia and dismissing the present-day viability of affordable renewables, all while cutting through the opposing stance that nuclear power is an environmental crisis waiting to happen.

This approach has always been effective, but it’s especially potent in the digital age, says Dion Curry, senior lecturer of public policy at Swansea University. Public figures with “little political power, but immense media power” – he cites Brexit’s Nigel Farage as an example – can strategically reach voters through targeted Facebook ads and participation in social media “echo chambers,” he says………. https://thediplomat.com/2019/01/how-direct-democracy-went-nuclear-in-taiwan/

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January 21, 2019 - Posted by | politics, Reference, Taiwan

1 Comment »

  1. Taiwan is a place, that cannot hide a nuclear catastrophe, it cannot hide the effects of one very easily. People in Taiwan are very aware of what is going on in Japan from fukushima. It is why they do not want Japanese food there.

    The rank and file taiwanese-people did not bring the special referendum for nuclear in those communities there .. Special interest nuclear did.

    I let a Taiwanese friend stay with me a couple of years ago. He was trying to get the he’ll out of Taiwan. He told me a story about fake chicken eggs there and was amazed at how abundant real chicken eggs are here.

    People choke on industrial pollution in big cities in Taiwan. People cannot even get real chicken eggs there anymore. They actually make and buy fake chicken eggs because, there are so many people and, the environment is so contaminated.
    People living on that island can see how badly their water is polluted, by industrial pollution. How badly their air and food is polluted. They can see it in what rural areas that still exist.

    People can see, that their food is poisoned from pesticides , industrial poisons, like in many hyperi-industrialized societies.

    They can see the fish catches are not so good any more. The people in Taiwan can see the real cancer rates going up in children and adults. People in Taiwan can see chronic disease going up. Birth defects going up. Female problems going up . Male sterility going up. Miscarriages going up. Childhood respiratory diseases going up from industrial pollution, that end up being permanent. People in Taiwanese can see life expectancies going down .

    Most referendums are fake in America. Anyone from California or Washington state will tell you so. Bill gates and Paul Allen, payed millions to get fake property tax and charter school referendums marketed, and pushed through in Washington state, that only benefited them . That is because no one bothers to read the fine print that says only the billionaires property taxes, will truly be effected by the referendums.

    The issues are completely distorted by bought off medias and, corrupt politicians. Special interest groups recruit ringers to accumulate fake signatures. It is done in Taiwan too.

    Unfortunately for the people of Taiwan, their damaged old nuclear plants will have a meltdown and or a fuel fire there soon because the reactors there are very decrepit. One is earthquake damaged.

    The people will be knashing their teeth because, they were not forceful enough in shutting down and shutting out nuclear. It is not as if they do not know what they are getting themselves in for in Taiwan.

    America is a fake place. Prosperity based to a high degree on nuclear imperialism using extinction noms as a threat and industrial insanity run amock.

    America just had another nuclear catastrophe in its largest most densely populated area on the west coast. The Woolsey fire that spread fallout over socal.

    People have learned nothing from fukushima here.

    Comment by Doug | January 21, 2019 | Reply


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