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The public is listening...But will Jiang speak?
Publication Date : 11-03-2013
A greater-than-expected turnout of 200,000 protesters across Taiwan took to the streets against the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant on Saturday, according to an estimate by the Green Citizens' Action Alliance.
In Taipei, participants included the usual suspects of hard-line activists and pan-green loyalists. But this was a crowd made up mostly of fresh faces. There were moms toting infants. There were high school students. One taxi driver parked and walked over five blocks over to Ketagalan Boulevard, just to stop by and “see if there is anything good to see.”
If Saturday says anything, it's that the public cares about the idea of nuclear catastrophe. If Saturday says one more thing, it's that the public wants to know more about Nuke 4 (and whether it could result in catastrophe).
So we urge Premier Jiang Yi-huah: Educate us.
Unprecedented numbers are listening, but the central government is hardly rushing to clear away the confusion shrouding Nuke 4. Earlier this week, Jiang told a Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmaker that the central government is not in the position to order state utility Taipower to advertise both arguments and counter-arguments for nuclear energy.
But how could the government not be? The premier has chosen to put the fate of Nuke 4 to a popular referendum, and a meaningful decision on a referendum issue is possible only after public debate and education. If a democratic government conducts a referendum in good faith, it also tries to ensure that citizens are reasonably well-informed.
Jiang cannot count on opposition legislators to promote counter-arguments to nuclear energy. If the DPP and the Kuomintang (KMT) speak only for themselves, they create two channels of shrill and unbelievable claims that ultimately educate no one.
An effective public education campaign starts with the government. The state attends to all sides of the issue, presenting arguments in mass media and on Internet hubs. To encourage viewing, data are presented alongside entertainment. Information should be so pervasive that the average citizen does not need to make any effort to obtain it. The state should start early with this campaign, before fear or disillusionment is able to turn away votership.
When a government does not make any of these efforts, it is not holding a referendum in good faith, and it opens itself up to public suspicion. Was there government collusion with industry at any point during the 20-year public construction case? Did the KMT administration keep construction going to avoid corruption lawsuits? Most importantly, is the government refusing to recognise problems or to strengthen measures for disaster prevention for fear of inviting greater public backlash?
This December, voters can answer at least one question on their own: “Do you agree to halt Fourth Nuclear Power Plant construction and prevent it from becoming operational?”
This question is meant deliberately to be simple, according to KMT Legislator Lai Shyh-bao. In the question, there are no details in the KMT's favour - nothing about rising electricity rates, shrinking economic growth, or the expense that has already gone into the public project. Similarly, the question includes nothing that favors the anti-nuclear camp: Voters don't get a list of “Nuke 4 time bombs.” In short, the referendum question tries not so much to inform, but only to ask voters for their attitude, Lai told reporters.
Lai was pleased that his caucus managed to devise such an accessible question, but we are mostly troubled, because all too often the easiest response to a simple question turns out to be a simpleminded answer.