Thu, Dec 09, 2010 - Page 8 News List

Delaying elections in the event of a shooting

By Tim Hsu 許惠峰

On the eve of the 2004 presidential election, then-president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and vice president Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) were injured by two bullets as they took part in a motorcade. The shooting provoked a confrontation between the pan-blue and pan-green camps that lasted for many years. Just before last month’s elections for mayors, councilors and borough wardens in five special municipalities, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) politician Sean Lien (連勝文) was injured by a gunshot during a campaign rally.

Whatever the motive for these attacks and whatever effect they may have had on the elections, what is certain is public discussion and speculation about the incidents have greatly harmed Taiwan’s democratic electoral system. Legislative measures are needed to prevent such incidents from happening again.

The nation’s election and recall laws should be amended so that elections would automatically be suspended in the event of a firearms attack. The amendment could be worded as follows: “In the event of an attack using firearms against a candidate, or a candidate’s spouse or close relative, or an election campaign worker, at a public poll campaign site or during a campaign activity, within 48 hours before a legislative election or an election for a councilor or mayor in a special municipality, the Central Election Commission shall announce a delay of one week in the timing of the election.”

The reasons for such an amendment are as follows:

First, it would promote fair elections. The value of democratic elections is that, through periodic popular participation, they enable virtuous people who are genuinely capable of governing and engaging in political deliberations to emerge by winning the favor of rational voters. Elections are not supposed to involve shootings that influence the result by generating sympathy votes, so that diligent and conscientious candidates see all their years of hard work suddenly reduced to nothing, while voters’ desire for a virtuous and capable politician comes to naught. When this occurs, it badly undermines a democratic system.

Second, it would reduce confrontation and its social cost. Whether the shooting is motivated by politics or a personal grudge, politicians will seek to use it to influence elections. There is no way of judging scientifically and precisely how much influence it may actually have. The pan-blue and the pan-green camps are bound to have their own interpretations of the event and media pundits will draw their own conclusions, while voters will tend to believe whichever side they support. This will only deepen the social rift and increase mistrust.

Third, it would stop firearm attacks from happening again and again. By delaying the election for a week, it would make it impossible for assailants who use violence to air their grievances or to smear political opponents from achieving their purpose. During the interim, the various political camps would demand that the police and prosecution act swiftly to find out and publicize the true facts of the case.

Even if the authorities fail to clear up the case during this period, the delay would allow time for voters to calm down, thereby minimizing the number of sympathy votes and their effect on elections. If potential attackers are denied the opportunity to influence elections, they would be discouraged from resorting to such extreme actions.

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