Thu, Dec 18, 2014 - Page 8 News List

Monitoring polls way of improving democracy

By Chen Chien-fu 陳建甫

Even though legislation covering elections and recalls does not specifically state whether international observer groups are allowed to monitor elections here, a large budget has been allocated for two or three Taiwanese monitors to be present at every polling station.

While — on the face of it — this is to prevent electoral fraud, it is really done just so that political parties can confirm ballot results.

This opens the Central Election Commission to suspicions from nongovernmental organizations that it is overstepping the boundaries of neutrality it should observe in its implementation of electoral and recall legislation.

Some might contend that including provisions for international observers in electoral and recall legislation is inviting interference from foreign powers.

This is absolutely not the case, as any international observation group compiles an “electoral observer handbook” reflecting the historical, cultural, political and economic factors of the nation in question — as well as other factors, such as that nation’s civic society and political parties.

From national assembly elections and constituent assembly elections to plebiscites on independence and state elections around the world, polls are monitored by international observers from the Carter Center in the US, the European Parliament and the Asia Network for Free Elections.

International observers must follow the 2005 UN Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation and Code of Conduct for International Election Observers when carrying out their work, including: “the systematic, comprehensive and accurate gathering of information concerning the laws, processes and institutions related to the conduct of elections and other factors concerning the overall electoral environment; the impartial and professional analysis of such information; and the drawing of conclusions about the character of electoral processes,” as well as the provision of a report on any problems or shortcomings observed during the course of the election.

The commission has long been a member of international election organizations, such as the Association of Asian Election Authorities, but in terms of reforming Taiwan’s electoral system, election laws, administrative procedures and other supporting measures, it falls short of other Asian nations, such as South Korea, Thailand, the Philippines and Mongolia.

In response to demands from civic groups to amend electoral legislation to allow international observers in, as happens in these other association member nations, the commission has said that it has never prohibited international observers from coming to monitor elections, and has tried to use the excuse that — due to the international situation — Taiwan is unable to sign either the declaration of principles or the code of conduct.

It has even, on occasion, resorted to saying that it “does not have the funds,” to do so, and that all it can do is to invite these association observer groups in their official capacity to come to monitor the elections.

In the electoral and recall legislation, the problem with including provisions for international observers lies not in the supposed lack of funds, but in the fundamental disregard of the core functions of elections by those in charge, namely, that ballots are free, comprehensive, open, fair and sometimes — when needed — operate as a mechanism for a peaceful transition of political power.

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