In this file photo dated Aug. 27, 2018, senior officials of the Kuomintang, Taiwan’s major political party, hold a press conference in Taipei to state their opposition to lifting a ban on food imports from Fukushima and four other Japanese prefectures. The banners read “oppose nuclear food.” (Mainichi/Shizuya Fukuoka)
TAIPEI (Kyodo) — A referendum on maintaining a ban on food products from five Japanese prefectures, imposed after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, saw the restrictions kept in place on Saturday, dealing a major blow to the government of President Tsai Ing-wen and the island’s relations with Japan.
For a referendum to deliver a decisive result in Taiwan, the “yes” vote must account for more than 25 percent of the electorate, or about 4.95 million voters.
The Central Election Commission website showed that more than 15 million of the 19.76 million eligible voters cast their ballots. More than 6 million voters approved the initiative, well over the 25 percent required.
The referendum is legally binding and government agencies must take necessary action.
The result dealt a significant blow to the Democratic Progressive Party government which proposed easing the ban after coming to power in May 2016, but backed away when the main opposition Nationalist Party (KMT) questioned the new government’s ability to ensure the safety of the imported products.
Government officials responsible for the policy declined to comment on Sunday, only saying it is a matter for President Tsai to decide.
Tsai announced her resignation as DPP leader on Saturday following her party’s disastrous defeat in key mayoral elections that day, races viewed as indicators of voter sentiment ahead of the next presidential and island-wide legislative elections in 2020.
Some worry that the result of the referendum on Japanese food imports will have a negative impact on the island’s relations with Japan. Taiwan’s representative to Japan, Frank Hsieh, said the initiative was a KMT scheme aimed at undermining bilateral relations between Taiwan and Japan at a time when the two are seeking closer ties as a way of protecting themselves from an increasingly belligerent China.
He also warned that if the referendum is successful, Taiwan would pay “a grave price” that will affect all its people.
China is the only other country still restricting comprehensive imports from Fukushima Prefecture and nearby Ibaraki, Gunma, Tochigi, and Chiba prefectures.
The referendum, initiated by the KMT, was one of 10 initiatives put to a vote in conjunction with Saturday’s island-wide local elections.
Voters approved two other referendums initiated by the KMT. One sought to stop the construction of new coal-fired power plants or the expansion of existing ones, and the other asked voters if they wanted to phase out thermal power plants.
Beijing will be happy about the result of a referendum on the name the island uses when competing at international sports events. It had sought to change the name used to participate in future international events, including the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, from “Chinese Taipei” to “Taiwan.”
The CEC website showed that more than 8.9 million cast their ballots. About 3 million of the eligible voters approved the initiative, less the 25 percent needed for the referendum to count.
The referendum was highly unpopular among athletes, who were worried that a successful outcome would hamper their right to compete, as the International Olympic Committee resolved in May that it would stand by a 1981 agreement that Taiwanese athletes must compete as “Chinese Taipei.”
The IOC had also warned that Taiwan would risk having its recognition suspended or cancelled if the referendum was successful.
China was annoyed by the proposal and pressured the East Asian Olympic Committee to revoke Taichung’s plan to host the 2019 East Asian Youth Games.
Beijing said that if the referendum was successful, it would not sit idly by and would “definitely respond,” without elaborating.
There were also five referendums relating to same-sex marriage — three initiated by opponents of same-sex marriage and two by supporters.
The CEC website showed that all three of the anti-same sex marriage initiatives passed, while both the pro-same sex marriage referenda failed.
The result also puts the Tsai government in an awkward position as Taiwan’s highest court, the Council of Grand Justices, ruled 18 months ago that the government must, within two years, amend the Civil Code or enact a special law legalizing gay marriage.