Mon, Jul 26, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Cleaning up politics in Kaohsiung

By Chiu Li-li邱莉莉

The Kaohsiung City Council by-election resulted in defeat for most of the candidates from the vote-buying families.

Some people were glad that a clear stream had emerged in the mire of politics, as witnessed by the rejection of vote-buying tactics by a more thoughtful section of the Kaohsiung electorate. Several candidates with a clean image have been elected and the vote-buying families have now been admonished. But is it justified to assert that Kaohsiung residents are now a responsible electorate? I don't think so.

Voter turnout in the election was very low, just 34 percent of the electorate. But in reviewing local elections over the past few years, we discover that a low turnout rate has become the norm in council elections.

That people are disappointed with "black gold" politics and are unwilling to vote for corrupt candidates or their relatives is a positive interpretation of the low voter turnout. Maybe the indifference of "swing voters" can be healed over time and by the emergence of better candidates, but when the turnout continues to decline, the problem becomes much more serious. The voter turnout is an indication of people's willingness to participate in local affairs, and also a reflection of their civic responsibility.

The Kaohsiung City Council by-election raises a number of issues. If low voter turnout can make people think more deeply about who should be allowed to lead local affairs, I think this will be much more effective than simply ousting corrupt politicians.

But if the electorate had not become so weary of politics, people like former council speaker Chu An-hsiung (朱安雄) would not have been able to ignore the public and buy their way into office. Moreover, council members who once had a good political image would not have been able to make a pact with people such as Chu, in the misguided belief that "accumulated wrongs make a right."

The by-election and its result did not at all deal with fundamental problems ingrained in our political system. Politicians like Chu continue to hold power. The electorate should insist on electing only virtuous people to create a government which has both privilege and responsibility. This is just a part of how the electorate can monitor its government. They should also make sure representatives of the people refrain from profit-driven decision making and maintain ethical behavior through pressuring their leaders to pass laws to that effect.

In other words, the electorate should be vigilant in the face of corruption within government and insist on a high level of transparency.

This kind of civic awareness can enforce checks and discipline on politicians, and is the only way to ensure the smooth running of autonomous governments.

While everyone was busy discussing the number of seats obtained by various parties and how many seats were won by candidates from vote-buying families, I think it is more important that we debate whether or not the electorate is being enslaved by a political process they do not or cannot control.

How can we prevent politicians from hijacking the political process and make the people active participants and watchdogs of the political process? I believe that this is the most important question Kao-hsiung City councilors, and indeed, the Taiwanese people, must ask.

Chiu Li-li is a Tainan City councilor

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