EDITORIAL: Stopping at nothing to win elections

Thu, Apr 21, 2011 - Page 8

The Central Election Commission on Tuesday decided to merge the next presidential election and the legislative elections.

Because legislative elections must by law be held before the next legislative session begins on Feb. 1, Tuesday’s decision means the next presidential election, which was supposed to be held in March next year, will take place in January, meaning there will be an unprecedented four-month gap between the presidential election and the swearing in of the president-elect on May 20.

Saying the simultaneous elections would save NT$500 million (US$17.24 million) in taxpayers’ money and reduce the impact of social and political mobilization, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) hailed the decision as one that meets public expectations.

The public supports saving public resources and reducing the frequency of the nation’s elections, which, being held almost every year, have long been criticized as a time-consuming waste of resources. In terms of shaping a more cost-effective administrative system, holding combined elections surely comes across as a positive decision.

However, the KMT government’s haste to implement combined elections — especially for the two national votes that pertain to the country’s administrative and constitutional stability — appears dubious.

If the government is truly concerned about cutting costs and reducing the social impact of elections on the public, why didn’t it tackle the matter shortly after President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) assumed office in 2008? Why did the Ma administration wait three years to rush through the merging of two important elections before existing laws governing them could be amended?

It is no surprise, therefore, that commentators have speculated there was a political motive behind Ma’s rush to merge the elections. This is not the first time accusations have surfaced that the KMT changed the rules of the game to reduce the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) odds of winning an election. For example, the KMT decided in 2009 to postpone an election for Taipei County commissioner to upgrade the county to a special municipality. This move was perceived by many as an attempt to prevent former premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) of the DPP — who was seen as having a better chance of beating then-Taipei county commissioner Chou Hsi-wei (周錫瑋) of the KMT — from winning the election.

With next presidential election to take place in January, about 50,000 first-time voters will miss out on their right to vote. Moreover, a so-called “constitutional lapse” is cause to worry despite government officials’ repeated dismissal of these concerns.

While officials have repeatedly said Taiwan’s democracy is mature enough to oversee a smooth transfer of power despite a four-month gap, that the governing party is willing to force through merged presidential and legislative elections despite the possibility of a constitutional crisis is dumbfounding.

Ma often preaches that all matters should be dealt with according to the law. Which makes it all the more hypocritical for the KMT, led by Ma, to change the rules for its own partisan interest.