The nine-in-one elections tomorrow are set to be not only the biggest poll in the nation’s history in terms of the number of local government posts up for grabs, but also a chance for voters to exercise another constitutional right of equal importance — the right to recall.
The Appendectomy Project, an offshoot of the Sunflower movement in March and April, is preparing to set up stands near 586 polling stations in three constituencies in Taipei and New Taipei City to collect signatures for petitions to recall Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators Alex Tsai (蔡正元), Wu Yu-sheng (吳育昇) and Lin Hung-chih (林鴻池).
There has not been a case in Taiwan of a lawmaker being removed from office through recall and only once has a recall election been held — in July 1994, when the KMT forced through a budget for the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in New Taipei City’s Gongliao District (貢寮), which triggered people to initiate a signature drive that placed five KMT lawmakers on recall ballots.
The 1994 recall campaigns were given a boost by a hunger strike by former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairman Lin I-hsiung (林義雄), but were resisted at every turn by the KMT, which then rammed an amendment to the Civil Servants Election and Recall Act (公職人員選舉罷免法) through the legislature.
The then-Taipei County Government, which was run by the DPP, initially decided to hold the recall vote on the same day as elections for Taiwan provincial governor and Taipei mayor in December 1994, but it was forced to decouple the votes as a result of the KMT’s amendment, which prohibits a recall vote being held with an election. The amendment also elevated signature requirements that recall petitions must meet to qualify, and increased the turnout and voting thresholds for a recall to succeed.
The Taipei County recall vote on the four KMT lawmakers failed due to insufficient turnout, as did a recall vote against another KMT lawmaker in Taipei, held separately from the Taipei mayoral election.
Twenty years later, a public initiative to exercise the right to recall, enshrined in Article 17 of the Constitution, met with stronger opposition from the KMT administration. The Central Election Commission (CEC) came up with a new official template for signature sheets and demanded that all signatures on the same sheet of paper be from the same neighborhood — a change from its previous template, which had each signature on its own sheet of paper.
By changing the template, the commission was being obstructive.
The new template, which can have seven signatures on the same sheet, could make people hesitant to sign it, because their personal information — including ID number, date of birth and address — would be visible to other people signing the same form.
The template might also have been designed to take advantage of signature collectors who are not aware that each page must be signed by people from the same neighborhood. The commission could then invalidate signatures collected from neighborhoods different from that of the first person listed on the form.
Through months of effort to collect signatures on streets, in communities, markets and other crowded places — without the DPP’s support as in 1994 — the campaign to recall Tsai, Wu and Lin entered the second stage. This phase requires the collection of at least 13 percent of signatures from the electorate in each of the lawmakers’ three constituencies in 30 days for the recall motion to be considered by the CEC.