In Taiwan's representative politics, one of the subjects that receives much criticism is the contamination of the political process by politicians who have obtained their position through vote-buying.
The roots of vote-buying can be found in the Chinese Nationalist Party's (KMT) long hold on power and its system for distributing the spoils of government. In the martial-law era, popular elections for local councils and local government leaders were allowed as a means of palliating the desire for popular participation in government and also as a way of bringing in new blood.
The KMT used a two-pronged policy of maintaining authoritarian control while at the same time undermining the character of those who wished to participate in the electoral process. In the past, in contrast to administrative leaders, shameless elected representatives could generally obtain office through vote-buying. But at the same time, their position was completely subordinate to the wishes of the government, which created a very unusual "accomplice structure" in politics.
After martial law was lifted, more legislative positions were open to popular elections, but when legislators created problems for the government, it was largely as a display of boldness and did not spring from any sense of righteousness.
Politicians see popular elections as a way of winning both riches and power. Although they obtain office through bribery, they also see the receipt of bribes as part of the job. Many legislative positions, and even administrative positions, have become the property of families or factions, who are harming the nation's political development. Taiwan's political problems stem from this focus on money and power, which has been created by the vote-buying culture. Even if this lust for money and power is fulfilled, popular elections remain simply a way for a small number of politicians to obtain power, and is of no use in resolving any of the aberrant developments of electoral democracy or the after-effects of rule by a colonial-style regime.
Let us take the Kaohsiung City Council as an example. Although a number of councilors have lost their positions because they've been found guilty of bribery, and by-elections were held to fill these positions, many of the families implicated in the vote-buying scandal were still able to participate. These families have now got a taste for what is possible and act as if there is no one there to see their crimes, being totally indifferent to shame. That electoral culture can develop into a state like this is truly ironic. It is a misuse of democracy, and reveals the severity of colonialism's after-effects on Taiwan.
Taiwan is walking out of the shadow of colonialism and rebuilding itself. Taiwanese society should think deeply about the pathology of vote-buying and voters should reject candidates who are tainted with the crime of vote-buying. People of Kaohsiung, open your eyes and prevent democratic government from being sullied!
Lee Min-yung is a poet and president of the Taiwan Peace Foundation.
Translated by Ian Bartholomew