Mon, Nov 05, 2001 - Page 1 News List

Ministers are free to start campaigning

DECEMBER POLLS Even though some high-ranking officials might be leaving themselves open to accusations of having a conflict of interest, the law doesn't prevent them from hitting the campaign trail and stumping for votes

By Joyce Huang  /  STAFF REPORTER

Government officials -- including the minister of justice and the minister of the interior -- are free to participate in campaign rallies or other election-related activities, a Cabinet official said yesterday.

Though some government officials act as election monitors and might be open to the appearance of a conflict of interest, the law doesn't prevent them from hitting the campaign trail, Chu Wu-hsien (朱武獻), head of the Central Personnel Administration, said yesterday.

"The law only prohibits administrative government workers from participating in political activities," Chu said, referring to career employees who do not receive their position through political appointment.

"Heads of government agencies -- including the justice minister, the minister of the interior and the director-general of the Central Personnel Administration, who are politically appointed -- should not be barred from attending campaign activities."

According to Chu, the law today prevents just the heads of the central bank, the Central Election Commission and the Fair Trade Commission and members of the Control Yuan and Examination Yuan, from participating in election activities.

As for the other government officials, the law doesn't say whether they should be barred from stumping for candidates.

These government officials are free to attend campaign rallies or give speeches in support of election hopefuls, Chu said.

But while the law doesn't explicitly bar some government officials from participating in election activities, many believe certain office holders should stay on the sidelines to avoid any appearance of impropriety.

For example, the minister of justice is responsible for tackling vote-buying and other election irregularities. The minister of the interior oversees the Central Election Commission.

Who these ministers support in an election might influence how they perform their jobs, observers say.

"It's lawful for some government heads to stump for candidates," Wea Chi-lin (魏啟林), former head of the Central Personnel Administration, said yesterday. "But I never attended any election-related activities when I was in office under the KMT's rule."

Wea -- who oversaw the deployment of government personnel -- said he stayed clear of election activities to avoid any suggestion that he was using his office to support a candidate.

Chu promised yesterday that his administration would keep a close eye on career government workers, taking disciplinary action against those found to have violated the law by stumping for election candidates.

But he didn't elaborate on what the penalties would be for those caught breaking the rules.

Su Tzen-ping (蘇正平), the government's spokesman, early last week said Cabinet members regard campaign rallies as a "social activity," not a "political activity" and they attend election events "out of courtesy."

Su also said the DPP administration allows politically appointed heads of government agencies to attend other parties' campaign rallies.

For example, the New Party's Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌), who heads the Environmental Protection Administration, has on many occasions stumped for his party's candidates in the lead-up to the Dec. 1 elections.

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