Fri, Dec 03, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Why do vile candidates get elected?

At the risk of being sued by some legislative candidates, the Taipei Society on Tuesday released an evaluation of the performance of the 225 members of the fifth Legislative Yuan in the fourth and fifth terms. Forty-three lawmakers failed the evaluation and 59 are on the probation list. The legislators' poor performance is not unexpected.

Among the four major parties, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) ranked lowest, followed by the People First Party and the Taiwan Solidarity Union. The performance of the Democratic Progressive Party's (DPP) lawmakers was rated highest.

Ever since the KMT government relocated to Taiwan from China, our representative bodies have been controlled by "old thieves" or "corrupt courtiers." The "old thieves" included National Assembly members from China who enjoyed a lifetime membership under the KMT's rule. But after former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) reconstructed the National Assembly by amending the Constitution, all of them retired by late 1991, and were replaced by lawmakers directly elected by the public.

The "old thieves" performed their duties under authoritarian rule while news was censored. Nobody looked into their misconduct, because the media were unable to monitor them. The media were no more than tools of the KMT's authoritarian rule -- rubber stamps to legitimize the party's will. But with the advent of freedom of the press, lawmakers' actions are exposed for public scrutiny. Unfortunately, the quality of their performance has failed to improve. An example is the vulgar language of the foul-mouthed KMT Legislator Yu Yueh-hsia (游月霞), who insulted then Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) by calling her an "old maid" and accused DPP Legislator Chou Ya-shu (周雅淑) of stealing somebody else's husband.

Many unsuitable people can still get elected. Does the problem stem from the overall quality of voters? If not, how can these vile legislative candidates still attract votes? The crux of the problem is political parties' degenerate performance. For example, Taipei Society researcher Chang Kuei-mao (張茂桂) singled out KMT Legislator Ho Chih-hui (何智輝) in Tuesday's report because of his alleged involvement in corruption scandals. Ho was charged with corruption with a recommended 18-year sentence, but escaped to China last year during his legislative term, and consequently there is no record of his attendance at a single legislative committee session. Nonetheless, he has still been nominated by the KMT in the legislative elections on Dec. 11.

This is the intrinsic problem with the KMT, which relies on an election machine fueled by vote-buying. Its intricate electioneering network operates through regional and clan organizations, which ensures that at least some of its legislators are guaranteed a seat in the legislature. The growth of public understanding is a long process. It is not that the public is ignorant, but simply that voters have to be informed. Fortunately there are a number of social justice groups who are willing to perform this role, setting up monitoring facilities and offering a direction for voters to follow. On Monday, the Taipei Society announced that it had sent questionnaires about six major political issues to 38 legislative candidates, but that only 12 were returned, the majority from DPP candidates. The society said that this cast doubt on the suitability of many legislators to be involved in the political process.

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