Thu, Jan 16, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Reform Kaohsiung, or we all suffer

By Ku Chung-Hwa 顧忠華

The phenomena of vote-buying in connection with the Kaohsiung City Council speaker election has gone through several dramatic twists and turns. Riddled by concerns over their "criminal status," many of the bribed councilors have taken the initiative to turn themselves in and become witnesses for the prosecution, thus shedding some light on the whole affair.

It looks as if the biggest loser will be the speaker-elect Chu An-hsiung (朱安雄). Whether new elections will be held is currently anyone's guess, but we cannot rule out the possibility that most of the councilors involved will be able to stay in office.

The problem is that most of them will have been expelled even as they carry out the duties of their position, so independents will likely become the largest group in the council, and the effects of such a situation are a cause for serious concern.

Regardless as to whether the involved councilors have come out to act as accomplices-turned-witnesses, they cannot deny having been involved in corruption. This group of councilors includes members from the KMT, the DPP and the PFP -- and they will hold a majority in the council. Therefore, if they are inducted, the Kaohsiung City Council will be "tainted." How could such a council be capable of shouldering the sacred duty of monitoring policy implementation?

Can Kaohsiung citizens rely on councilors that they know are flawed, hoping they will correct their mistakes without falling back into their old behavior?

City councilors are charged with representing residents during interpellation sessions with the city government and reviewing various budget items. Can residents trust that these independents -- who are not bound to party discipline and whose political career is doomed -- take this opportunity to gain as much profit as they possibly can?

The people of Taiwan were expecting that strict enforcement would have swept away "black gold" prior to these elections and that an honest and pure atmosphere would have been brought to local elections. Prosecutors probably have adopted a strategy of being selective in order to avoid consequences that are more severe than Kaohsiung's democracy can withstand.

We may soon see various sensational conspiracy theories cropping up. This conjecture would deplete public trust to the extent that citizens will question prosecutorial determination to punish corruption. It may also result in the dissipation of hard-won public morale and instead create the negative impression that the government is not following through.

This is also the reason why the government and political parties must hurry to draft a concrete plan evaluating possible side effects, as things start to unfold. They can not wait until after the fact and let things deteriorate without any damage control.

Political parties should abandon the blue-green myth and join hands to diagnose the flaws in Taiwan's local political structure. They should pass "sunshine" legislation to thoroughly eliminate the sources of "black gold" horse-trading.

Only when the dark channels of conflicting interests are examined in broad daylight, one by one, can elected officials at different levels fulfill their mandate instead of attempting to exchange their power for money and sullying the essence of democracy.

In the final analysis, the awakening of Taiwan's electorate is an indispensable step in the development toward a sound democratic system. If, apart from expelling the councilors involved in this case, political parties are unable to propose reforms to deal with the situation, it will really become necessary for the Kaohsiung City electorate to consider using their right to recall elected officials in an attempt at expressing the public's contempt for greedy councilors.

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