On 27 October 2000, the DPP-led government of President Chen Shui-bian announced its decision to halt construction of the island's Fourth Nuclear power plant. The plant, which is approximately one-third completed, is located in the coastal town of Kungliao, only some 24 miles from the Taipei metropolitan area.
The decision came after a four month reassessment process initiated by the newly-elected government right after its inauguration in May 2000. For more information about this process, and about the checkered history of Nuclear Four itself, read "The meltdown of Nuclear Four" on page 6.
While the reassessment process itself was thorough enough, the timing of the announcement of the decision was perhaps less than ideal: it came within an hour after President Chen had a long-awaited meeting with KMT-leader Lien Chan, who came in a distant third in the March 2000 presidential elections.
While the issue of the nuclear power plant did come up during Lien Chan's meeting with President Chen, Mr. Chen did not clearly indicate that his government had decided to cancel the project. An hour later, Prime Minister Chang Chun-hsiung made the announcement.
On Sunday, 12 November 2000, some 100,000 people participated in rallies in Taipei and Kaohsiung in support of President Chen's decision to cancel the nuclear power plant project.
The "crisis" erupted when Mr. Lien Chan went through the roof when he learned of Prime Minister Chang's announcement right after Lien's meeting with President Chen. Mr. Lien had been smarting ever since his defeat in March, but had finally been convinced to come to meet with the President after both his main rival Mr. James Soong of the People's First Party (PFP) and the leader of the New Party (NP) had met with the President during the previous week.
Mr. Lien Chan _ feeling insulted by the timing of the decision _ apparently decided to use the situation to try to unseat President Chen Shui-bian, and together with the pro-unificationist PFP and the tiny right-wing New Party started a drive to recall the President and Vice-President Annette Lü Hsiu-lien.
While together, the three parties have a majority in the Legislative Yuan (the KMT holds 115 seats, the PFP 17 seats and the New Party 9 seats), they form an uneasy alliance: both New Party and PFP broke away from the Kuomintang in bitter disputes with then-President Lee Teng-hui.
The reason that the KMT still holds this large number of seats is that the most recent elections for the Legislative Yuan were held in December 1998, when many KMT legislators rode to victory on the coattails of the popular former President Lee Teng-hui. If parliamentary elections were held today, the number of KMT seats would certainly nosedive, and both the ruling DPP and James Soong's People's First Party would significantly increase their numbers at the expense of the KMT.
That is also the prime reason why the Kuomintang made the rather outrageous decision to go straight for the recall procedure against the President, instead of opting for the more standard procedures open to the parliamentary opposition, such as a vote of no-confidence or a request to the Council of Grand Justices for an opinion. If they had gone for a vote of no-confidence in the Cabinet, then President Chen could dissolve the Legislative Yuan and call for new elections.
With their total of 141 out of 221 sitting legislators, the three opposition parties still are shy of the 2/3 majority (147) needed to recall the President. As of the time of this writing, the motion to recall had been introduced in the Legislative Yuan, but the three parties had not decided yet to move forward with a vote. The DPP was urging a number of independent legislators and Taiwanese "mainstream" members of the Kuomintang not to go along with the recall charade.
In the meantime, the Cabinet of Prime Minister Chang Chun-hsiung on 10 November 2000 formally requested the Council of Grand Justices, a body specifically set up to interpret constitutional matters, to pronounce itself on the constitutionality of the Cabinet's decision to cancel the project over the objections of the Kuomintang-dominated Legislative Yuan
That Taiwan has a possibility of recalling a sitting president is good, since it is part of the democratic structure of the nation. However, in should only be applied in case of gross negligence or misbehavior. The present case is one of differences in views and policy.
The Kuomintang long pushed for construction of the Nuclear Four power plant in the belief this was essential for the country's power supply and economic development. However, in doing so, it ran roughshod over the democratic process, and totally neglected energy efficiency, energy conservation and renewable energy sources. See our article "The Meltdown of Nuclear Four" on page 6.
So when President Chen was elected in March 2000 it was clear from the beginning that it would be only a matter of time before the new government would terminate the project. It set a process of re-assessment in motion which laid the foundation for the decision to cancel the project (see below). Anyone who read the pronouncements of President Chen and other government officials could see the decision coming.
The "surprise' and "indignation" on the part of Messrs. Lien Chan and James Soong are thus a farce. The real reason for the recall procedure is that their mainlander-dominated parties still can't accept the fact that after being in power for 55 years, they've now lost power to the DPP, which is dominated by the native-Taiwanese (85% of the population) and which is Taiwan-oriented rather than focused on China.
A major underlying reason is thus that the three opposition parties are still in favor of the anachronistic concept of "unification" with China, while President Chen has stood his ground vis-à-vis China, and has emphasized that the Taiwanese themselves should make a free and democratic decision on their future.
President Chen and his team have worked hard to make the transition as smooth as possible, and have been generally lauded for a cautious approach in both foreign and domestic policy: by all accounts, the economy is doing well (see the account "A question of different perceptions" by former US ambassador Nat Bellocchi ).
For sure, the stock market is down, some 40% from the levels of March 2000, when President Chen was elected. The KMT and some in the international press blame that on President Chen's government. However, Taiwan's stock market is not down more than any other stock markets internationally: the NASDAQ in New York is also down 38% from the level of March 2000. It would be farfetched to blame that on President Chen.
The Cross-Straits situation has been stabilized due to the prudent approach of President Chen. There doesn't seem to be much progress or dialogue, but that is not for lack of trying on the part of President Chen: he has held out olive branch after olive branch, only to have them rejected and slapped out of his hands by Beijing.
In the meantime, Mr. Lien Chan's Kuomintang and Mr. Soong's PFP have played a dirty game of obstructionism, both domestically and internationally. Domestically, they have done everything within their reach to block all and every measure the new government proposed in the Legislative Yuan.
In "interpellations", KMT legislators badgered Cabinet member in endless diatribes, primarily designed to embarrass the hapless Cabinet members, who have a legal obligation to sit through the full interpellation session. While in any democracy, no-one objects to a good debate on substantive issues, these exchanges did have no connection to any policy issues whatsoever.
A prime example was the July 2000 "interpellation" of the elderly former Prime Minister Tang Fei just a few weeks after he got out of the hospital. Instead of taking the high road of a real policy discussion, the mainly KMT legislators took the low road of hassling him with nonsensical questions. This was an embarrassment to Taiwan's democracy.
In the international arena, in particular the pro-unificationist New Party and the People's First Party have attempted to undermine President Chen's cautious approach. During the past months, legislators from those parties have flocked to Beijing in droves, and have met with high Chinese officials. It would be gullible to assume that the closed_door meetings dealt with mundane things like the weather. Did these New Party and People's First Party make any secret agreements with Beijing in order to undermine Taiwan's newfound democracy?
In all, it seems that the Kuomintang and the other two parties are attempting to "manufacture" a crisis in Taiwan in order to unseat President Chen and the DPP and regain the power they lost in the March 2000 elections. It would be a comic opera, if it didn't carry such high risks for Taiwan, its freedom, and its future.
On this topic, we present the following article, which was published in the Taipei Times of 4 November 2000.
By Mei-chin Chen, editor of Taiwan Communiqué
Like characters in traditional Taiwanese comic opera theater, several leading opposition figures are now jumping up and down to background music performed by clanging cymbals. What are they doing? They are expressing their "indignation" at the decision of the Chen Shui-bian administration to cancel the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant Project.
Chen and his team decided after ample consideration, as well as a recommendation by a committee established precisely for that purpose by the Ministry of Economic Affairs, that it was in the long-term interest of the nation to discontinue the ill-conceived Fourth Nuclear Power Plant and to redirect Taiwan's energy reliance toward energy efficiency, renewable energy and energy conservation.
The three latter terms are household terms in the West, and have been part of energy policy in the US and Europe. However, under the "guidance" of the KMT yes, the party in which James Soong and Lien Chan held such high positions during the past two decades Taiwan neglected these three policies and blindly steered ahead with the construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant.
So, Messrs. Soong and Lien have no right to be "indignant." The Taiwanese people are the ones who should be indignant about being led into the dead end alley of nuclear power.
These two gentlemen bear the responsibility for perpetuating a nuclear power plant project against the advice of experts who have been saying since the early 1980s that locating such a plant in an earthquake-prone area near a major metropolis is irresponsible.
They should bear responsibility for blindly placing all their bets on one "nuclear power horse" instead of developing diversified energy sources, including energy generated by clean coal, natural gas turbines, and renewable energy sources. Soong and Lien would be wise to tone down their opposition, disappear into the woodwork and indeed express support for Chen Shui-bian's redirection of energy reliance.
This new policy direction is built on the experience and technology developed in the US and Europe, and will in the long term lead to a stable and reliable energy supply on the island.
To turn this matter into a concocted "crisis" is reckless and irresponsible. Taiwan can't afford such a crisis, certainly against the background that this will play China into the cards. Or do these gentlemen place their own political interests above Taiwan's interest? Maybe they just can't accept the fact that they lost the March 2000 presidential election?
It is time to stop the clanging of the cymbals, and to focus on building an efficient and renewable energy supply for Taiwan. Only then can Taiwan really be the beautiful island, Ilha Formosa.
This article first appeared in the Taipei Times of November 4th 2000. Reprinted with permission.
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