Death penalty is­sue pos­si­bly up for ref­er­en­dum


Kuom­intang (KMT) Leg­is­la­tor Alex Tsai ( ) yes­ter­day pro­posed hold­ing a ref­er­en­dum on “al­low­ing the death penalty,” to be held on the same day as next year’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, fol­low­ing re­cent po­lit­i­cal dis­cus­sion over the use of the death penalty.

Tsai said that the cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment is­sue was un­able to be solved through “po­lit­i­cal means,” and should in­stead be voted on by Tai­wanese cit­i­zens. He said that while the Min­istry of Jus­tice ( MOJ) has con­sis­tently said that its stance is to abol­ish the death penalty, most sur­veys have shown that the public sup­port the death penalty. Tsai has said the case for a ref­er­en­dum is based on three fac­tors: first, the MOJ has al­ready claimed abol­ish­ment of cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment as Tai­wan’s “ul­ti­mate aim” with­out ad­dress­ing the need to win the sup­port of so­ci­ety more broadly. Se­condly, Tsai said that none of Tai­wan’s po­lit­i­cal lead­ers have the strength the make a firm stance on the is­sue, as in­cum­bent Pres­i­dent Ma Ying-jeou has said “that Tai­wan is not ready to abol­ish the death penalty,” and Demo­cratic Pro­gres­sive Party (DPP) pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Tsai Ing-wen ( ) said so­ci­ety still re­quired a “con­sen­sus.” Third, Tsai has said that putting the death penalty ques­tion to a public vote may help in­crease turnout as it would take place at the same time as the next pres­i­den­tial elec­tions. In re­sponse to fel­low KMT mem­ber, KMT cau­cus whip Lai Shy­h­bao ( ) said that while he was “en­thu­si­as­tic” about the public’s views on the con­tro­ver­sial is­sue, he pointed out that Tsai has yet to of­fi­cially pro­pose his case, and that com­bin­ing the ref­er­en­dum with the elec­tions would in­cur tight time re­stric­tions.

A Ploy to Cor­ner the DPP?

The KMT law­maker’s in­ten­tion for a ref­er­en­dum on the death penalty could spell elec­toral trou­ble for the DPP.

Anti- cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment groups and a por­tion of the DPP have been bur­dened by their stance, in the face of a claimed 80 per­cent of Tai­wanese cit­i­zens in fa­vor of the death penalty. The DPP chair­woman Tsai Ing-wen has re­marked in the past that abol­ish­ing the death penalty is a “uni­ver­sal value.”

Lo­cal me­dia spec­u­lated that by propos­ing a ref­er­en­dum, Alex Tsai could be hop­ing to cre­ate the im­pres­sion that “sup­port­ing the DPP equates with sup­port­ing abol­ish­ment of the death penalty” and it could pos­si­bly rekin­dle the urge to vote in even the most dis­ap­pointed pan-blue sup­port­ers, and pro­vide a stronger urge to vote in ap­a­thetic cit­i­zens.

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