Sat, Jan 21, 2012 - Page 8 News List

Vote buyers focusing on smaller districts

By Wu Ching-chin 吳景欽

The elections are over, but the problem of vote buying is still with us and has not diminished by any discernible amount.

The problem has only been exacerbated by the single-member district electoral system, which has now been used for two elections and under which vote buying appears to be particularly rampant.

Article 4 of the Additional Articles to the Republic of China (ROC) Constitution was revised in June 2005 to address changes in the voting system.

Not only was the single term for legislators extended to four years, but a new “single-member district, two vote” system was adopted to limit the number of representatives elected by allowing only one seat per constituency.

It was also hoped that this measure would help curb vote buying.

From what we have seen in the two most recent elections, such hopes have been in vain.

One of the main reasons for this was that the Additional Articles stipulates that, of the 113 legislators, only 73 are elected from the constituencies. If these seats are divided among the entire electorate, that would mean each constituency has something like 310,000 voters.

Supposing voter turnout is more than 80 percent, that means a candidate would have a good chance of winning by controlling, say, 100,000 votes. Now, it would take quite some resources to secure these through vote buying.

The problem is, even though it is true that the cost is much higher than it was under the previous system, it might not be high enough to prevent vote buying altogether, especially when a given constituency is considered to be of sufficiently high importance to a political party that already enjoys considerable clout in the legislature, and given that there is now a reduced number of constituency seats available.

This problem is even more apparent in cities or counties with a relatively small population, because the first clause of Article 4 of the Additional Articles states that at least one member shall be elected from each county and city.

Places like Kinmen, Matsu, Hualien, Taitung, Penghu and Chiayi are still allocated a seat even though their populations fall short of the size stipulated above. While it is true that this promotes regional balance, it also violates the principle that each vote shall carry equal weight.

Vote buying is even more difficult to prevent in constituencies with low populations, where the phenomenon of the “phantom population” (people who take up residence in an area four months before the election date for the sole purpose of being eligible to vote) is easier to engineer.

With the shift to the single-member system as required in the Additional Articles and, as clause 3 of Article 35 of the Civil Servants Election and Recall Act (公職人員選罷法) states that the division of the constituencies can only be reviewed every 10 years, things are unlikely to change in the short term, especially with the governing party holding a majority in the legislature.

All we can do is rely on prosecutors to pursue vote buying, although it would be unwise to hold out too much hope for this.

In the end, it is going to come down to the wisdom of the public, because if a given number of people are still willing to take bribes in return for their votes, we do not stand a chance of curbing this practice, no matter how many revisions to the law are made, or how heavy the punishments for transgressors are.

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