Sat, Apr 09, 2011 - Page 8 News List

Understanding combined elections

By Hawang Shiow-duan 黃秀端

Taiwan’s system of government is a semi-presidential one. Of the 55 countries with a similar system, Romania, Namibia and Peru are the only ones that have combined their parliamentary and presidential elections. The other 52 countries, including France, hold the elections on separate dates. One has to wonder whether the minority of countries that combine their elections have reached this situation without having given the issue deep thought. In Taiwan’s case, the attempt to combine the elections is certain to encounter several problems that will have to be resolved.

First, the Republic of China Constitution includes the possibility of bringing down the Cabinet in a vote of no confidence. If that happens, the president could dissolve the legislature and call for new legislative elections. Once the legislature had been dissolved, the timing of plans to combine the presidential and legislative elections would fall to pieces. Why, then, should we combine these elections?

Furthermore, the Constitution stipulates that the newly elected legislature must convene on Feb 1. This means that the legislative elections must be held in January at the latest. It also means that the presidential election would have to be moved forward to January, and, consequently, that the president-elect would have to wait for four months before being sworn in.

Unless the incumbent president has been re-elected, the lame-duck period for outgoing presidents would be extended.

Another problem is that presidential elections are governed by the Presidential and Vice Presidential Election and Recall Act (總統副總統選罷法), while legislative elections are governed by the Civil Servants Election and Recall Act (公職人員選罷法), and these two laws differ in several places.

These include the rules on campaign advertising, fines on bringing mobile phones into polling stations, regulations -blocking someone who has entered a polling station without voting from re-entering to vote, and the period prior to an election during which opinion polls are prohibited.

These differences could result in confusion over how to apply the law, leaving voters and candidates at a loss as to what to do. In the past, the timing of mayoral and councilor elections for the special municipalities have been changed, but both these kinds of elections are governed by the same law.

Combining the elections would cause the presidential candidates to dominate proceedings, while legislative candidates could appear lackluster in comparison.

This would deprive voters of the opportunity to get to know their legislators because of the focus on the presidential candidates. However, we must not forget the important role given to legislators in our Constitution.

Finally, if the presidential election is moved forward, about 50,000 young people that would have been able to vote for the first time if the traditional election date was kept will be disenfranchised, deprived of their first opportunity to exercise their right to vote.

There is nothing to prevent the two elections being combined, but all complementary measures should first be dealt with. The Constitution should be amended to create a common date for the swearing in of the president and legislators and the Presidential and Vice Presidential Election and Recall Act and the Civil Servants Election and Recall Act should either be merged or revised so that regulations are consistent.

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