In two days of informal group discussions on Yangmingshan earlier this month, the new ministers of the Executive Yuan reached a consensus on a major policy -- the direct appointment of township and village chiefs by the year 2002. How could the new government -- which claims to be a people's government -- reach a consensus on a major policy that violates local autonomy and deprives people of their right to vote? Did the media make mistakes in their reporting?
In an effort to solve problems caused by local factions, the KMT proposed direct appointment of township and village chiefs, giving people the false impression that it was willing to solve "black-gold" politics. Yet the DPP supported the KMT on this issue.
The DPP believes that township and village chiefs, important vote-buyers for the KMT, lessen the chance of DPP candidates winning elections. Since the KMT was willing to give up its own advantage, the DPP was happy to agree. Therefore, at the 1996 National Development Conference
Democracy is precious because people can decide on public affairs that will have an impact on their own interests. Township and village residents know best about local affairs and their needs, and therefore, town-ship and village chiefs should be directly elected by them. If such chiefs are to be appointed by county commissioners, their personal or party interests will be reflected in their decision-making. The commissioners will not -- unless they are saints -- select candidates simply to meet local development needs.
Thus, direct appointment of township chiefs only serves to deprive residents of their rights to participate in public affairs through direct voting. Therefore, direct appointment not only seriously violates the basic principles of local autonomy and "communalism," but harms democracy and will further hinder the development of local politics.
If such local elections are to be canceled in a bid to stop gangsters from whitewashing their reputations -- wouldn't it also be necessary to cancel all legislative and city council elections, which are also used by gangsters to clean-up their names, and fill these jobs by direct appoint as well?
If the elections of township and village chiefs are canceled because people want to prevent vote-buying and violence triggered by elections, why not simply stop all elections?
An important policy that took shape at the informal discussion forum on Yangmingshan -- which the media jokingly refer-red to as the "freshman training camp" -- is set to become government policy without any in-depth evaluation.
Hasn't the policy-making process been too casual?
Moreover, major policies should be formulated in consideration of structural issues as well as the principles and spirit of local autonomy. If the policies are made with the aim of resolving criminal issues -- such as gangsters whitewashing their names, vote-buying and violence -- it will only result in inappropriate policy-making and damage to democracy.
Therefore, I urge the new government to have second thoughts on the issue. If it still decides to carry out the consensus reached by the National Development Conference (which was dominated by the old KMT administration), then the new government might like to consider a tax cut -- based on the principle of "reducing people's obligations when their rights are reduced."
Lin Shan-tien is a professor of law at National Taiwan Uni-versity.
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