A nation-wide consultative referendum (全國性公民投票) was held in the Republic of China (ROC/Taiwan) on March 20, 2004 to coincide with the 2004 presidential election. Voters were asked two questions regarding the relationship between the ROC/Taiwan and the People's Republic of China, and how the ROC/Taiwan should relate to China. The initiation of this referendum by President Chen Shui-bian came under intense criticism from the PRC because it was seen as an exercise for an eventual vote on Taiwan independence. The Pan-Blue Coalition urged a boycott, citing that the referendum was illegal and unnecessary. Voters agreed by wide margins on the two questions put forth by the government, but the less than 50% voter turnout invalidated the result.
1. The People of Taiwan demand that the Taiwan Strait issue be resolved through peaceful means. Should Communist China refuse to withdraw the missiles it has targeted at Taiwan and to openly renounce the use of force against us, would you agree that the Government should acquire more advanced anti-missile weapons to strengthen Taiwan's self-defense capabilities? (「台灣人民堅持台海問題應該和平解決。如果中共不撤除瞄準台灣的飛彈、不放棄對台灣使用武力，您是否贊成政府增加購置反飛彈裝備，以強化台灣自我防衛能力？」)
2. Would you agree that our Government should engage in negotiation with Communist China on the establishment of a "peace and stability" framework for cross-strait interactions in order to build consensus and for the welfare of the peoples on both sides? (「您是否同意政府與中共展開協商，推動建立兩岸和平穩定的互動架構，以謀求兩岸的共識與人民的福祉？」)
Type of vote
% of valid votes
45.10% of registered voters
92.23% of votes cast
7.77% of votes cast
A minimum of 50% voter turnout was required to validate the results. This was not achieved, and the results, overwhelming in favor of both measures, were invalidated.
The vetting of the referendum bill appeared to alarm Beijing which issued more sharp threats of a strong reaction if a referendum bill passed which would allow a vote on sovereignty issues such as the territory and flag of the ROC. The final bill that was passed by the Legislative Yuan on November 27, 2003 did not contain restrictions on the content of any referendums, but did include very high hurdles for referendums on constitutional issues. These hurdles were largely put in place by the Pan-Blue Coalition majority in the legislature. The bill also contained a provision for a defensive referendum to be called if the sovereignty of the ROC was under threat. In response to the referendum passage, Beijing issued vague statements of unease.
On November 29, 2004, President Chen Shui-bian announced that given that the PRC had missiles aimed at Taiwan, he had the power under the defensive referendum clause to order a referendum on sovereignty, although he did not do so under pressure by USA. This statement was very strongly criticized both by Beijing and by the Pan-Blue Coalition. But instead, he proposed a referendum to ask the PRC to remove the hundreds of missiles it has aimed at Taiwan.
In a televised address made on January 16, 2004, President Chen reiterated his "Four Noes and One Without" pledge, justified the "peace referendum," and announced its questions.
One interesting characteristic of the debates is that the con positions were not argued by any active political figures in the Pan-Blue Coalition, and the CEC at first found it difficult to find people to take the con position. The Pan-Blue Coalition has made it clear that it favored the topics to be decided in the referendum, but believed that the referendum process itself was illegal and a prelude to more controversial topics. As a consequence, Pan-Blue asked its supporters not to vote at all in the referendum, with the intention of having the number of valid votes fall below the 50% voter threshold necessary to have a valid referendum.
Because of Pan-Blue's strategy of having people cast no ballot in the referendum, one major controversy was the format of the election, specifically as whether the referendum questions would be on the same or different ballots as the Presidency. After much debate the CEC decided that there would be a U shaped line in which people would first cast a ballot for President and then cast a separate ballot for each of the two questions. Voters who choose not to cast a referendum ballot could exit the line at the base of the U. Near the end of the campaign, the CEC issued a number of conflicting and constantly changing directives as to what would constitute a valid ballot.