Fri, Nov 26, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Change perception of vote-buying

As Taiwan's highly competitive legislative race enters the final stage, many candidates who are trailing in the polls hope to buy votes. As a result, the Ministry of Justice and prosecutors have been extremely busy investigating allegations of vote-buying. Despite the government's earnest efforts over the past four years, the practice of vote-buying appears to be either somewhat less prevalent, or at the very least, less transparent a process than before. There is still much room for improvement in cleaning up Taiwan's elections.

A big problem with the crackdown on vote-buying continues to be that those who are caught red-handed don't have to pay the price until much later, long after they've been elected and sworn into office. Recently, in the alleged vote-buying case of Non-Partisan Solidarity Union (NPSU, 無黨團結聯盟) lawmaker Tsai Hao (蔡豪), Tsai was finally formally prosecuted only last week, near the completion of his term -- more than three years after the alleged vote-buying took place. No one knows how long it will take for the trial to be completed and all the appeals exhausted. In the meantime, Tsai may have completed another term, maybe even two.

The problem is there is very little, if any, public or moral pressure on candidates who buy votes. Candidates don't seem to feel ashamed or morally compromised either. There is less self-discipline keeping one from doing so beforehand, and very little outside public condemnation once a person is caught. This effectively takes away most of the punishment for such wrongdoing. As a result, vote-buying has for decades been an inseparable part of Taiwan's electoral process. Frankly speaking, people have gotten used to it.

An obvious example is former Kaohsiung City Council speaker Chu An-hsiung (朱安雄), who was found guilty of buying votes in a council election for the speaker's seat. The prosecution and trial of the case -- in which a large number of the Koahsiung City councilors and then council vice speaker were charged and found guilty at the same time -- demonstrated unprecedented government efficiency. However, in the re-election of the council seats left vacant as a result of the guilty verdict, Chu's daughter, 25-year-old Chu Ting-shan (朱挺珊) was elected with more than 10,000 votes. Chu Ting-shan should not be blamed for the wrongs committed by her father. However, as a political newcomer who had never held public office, Chu Ting-shan's election was mostly a result of her father and family's influence. In other words, someone found guilty of vote-buying still carries enough political clout to send an inexperienced daughter to the Kaohsiung City Council. That demonstrates what the voters here really think about vote-buying.

Those accused or found guilty of vote-buying can always handily cry "political persecution," and present themselves as martyrs. There is always someone ready and willing to buy into this popular excuse. Such is the case of Chu An-hsiung and People's First Party (PFP) lawmaker Chung Shao-ho (鍾紹和), who was also accused of vote buying last week, among others.

Unless people's perception about vote buying truly changes, no amount of reward money offered by the Ministry of Justice will effectively get to the root of the problem.

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