Sat, Feb 10, 2001 - Page 8 News List

Legal changes will clean up voting

By Wang Yeh-lih 王業立

Investigations into vote-buying activities are already under way in the run-up to elections at the farmers' and fishermen's associations nationwide later this month. The thick accumulation of "black gold" (黑金) elements cannot possibly be cleaned up overnight after the transition of political power. However, elections at the farmers' associations are seen as an important battle in which to install "vote captains" in preparation for the legislative and county/city elections at the end of this year.

The results of a crackdown against vote-buying in the farmers' associations election is therefore seen as a barometer of the government's determination to eliminate black gold -- and an indicator of how clean the elections will be at the end of the year. For these reasons, the ongoing investigations have attracted considerable public attention.

What has been overlooked in this wave of investigations is that the Executive Yuan has recently approved amendments proposed by the Council of Agriculture to Article 18 of the Farmers' Association Election and Recall Law.

Under the current regulations, private organizations can adopt a "block vote" method, which allows each representative to vote for all seats on the organization's board. In comparison, the new amendments require a "limited vote," under which each representative can only vote for half the number of board seats up for grabs. For example, if a farmers' association is to elect a seven-member board, each representative can only vote for three members under the new regulations.

The new rules take effect with the upcoming elections. Such a small change in the election methods may have a major impact on the influence of local factions.

In terms of voting theory, the biggest problem with the block vote method is that it allows any group which can control more than half of the voters to win all the seats for which it is running. Therefore, it is extremely easy for any party which has a slight advantage to dominate the election, allowing no survival space for smaller parties.

Compared to elections for public representatives, it is generally easier to control voters in elections at Taiwan's private organizations and political parties -- which generally have smaller electorates. Any group which controls more than half of the votes -- either by itself or through a "vote exchange alliance" -- can easily win all the directors' and supervisors' seats because it can get voters to vote for a full board according to a "suggested name list." All the other parties, meanwhile, will get nothing.

This method, which was used in most past elections at farmers' associations, often resulted in two mutually hostile factions engaging in a battle of vote-buying. All kinds of extreme methods have been used, including bribery, intimidation and the so-called "collective pleasure trips" (集體出遊) -- in which local factions take a group or groups of voters on a trip a couple of days before the election -- and keeps them away until election day -- in order to ensure they show up to cast their ballots.

Any group which can control more than half of the membership representatives can win all the directors' seats -- and consequently the treasured chair-person's seat. The block vote method turns the elections into a zero-sum game and allows one faction to totally control the organizations. This in turn gives rise to all kinds of corruption and irregularities. If a "rotation of factions" takes place in the next election, it is an entire rival faction taking over and monopolizing the association's resources.

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