Taiwan referendums fail in major setback for opposition

Four questions were put to public, including whether to ban imports of pork containing ractopamine and whether to change site of LNG terminal.

A Taipei resident casts her vote at the four-question referendum [Annabelle Chih/Reuters]

Referendums that, if approved, might have affected Taiwan’s ties with key backer the United States and its energy security failed to pass on Saturday, in a major setback to the opposition which had cast the votes as a show of no-confidence in the government.

Of the four of Saturday’s referendums, the two most contentious and high-profile asked whether to ban imports of pork containing the leanness-enhancing additive ractopamine, and whether to change the site of a planned liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal to protect a reef.

The government approved the pork imports last year, hoping to remove a stumbling block for a free trade deal with the US, where ractopamine – a common feed additive used by US pig farmers – is widely used, and show it is a reliable partner.

Pork is a staple of Taiwanese cuisine and an important domestic product. About 90 percent of Taiwan’s pork is supplied by local farmers, who are part of the island’s powerful agricultural lobby.

The issue has triggered protests on the streets and in parliament.

Meanwhile, the government says the LNG terminal will secure the semiconductor-producing island’s energy supplies, and it would resite the project further offshore to minimise the effects on the reef. The vote sought a complete relocation.

Voters rejected the proposals, as the government had asked them to do, though turnout was low.

For a referendum to pass, at least 25 percent of the island’s roughly 20 million eligible voters need to vote in favour, or some five million votes.

In the end, about four million people voted “no” to the four questions, more than those who voted “yes”.

Eric Chu, chairman of Taiwan’s main opposition party the Kuomintang, or KMT, said the outcome was “not ideal” and offered his apologies.

Referendums are held every two years and their results are non-binding.

The votes came as China has heaped pressure on democratic Taiwan to accept Beijing’s sovereignty claims, and tensions between the two have soared.

KMT was thrashed in presidential and parliamentary elections last year, unable to shake accusations from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and President Tsai Ing-wen that the KMT was too close to China.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies