Thu, Jul 15, 2004 - Page 1 News List

`Black gold' haunts Kaohsiung again

By Jewel Huang  /  STAFF REPORTER

Premier Yu Shyi-kun yesterday ordered the Ministry of Justice to crack down on vote-buying in the upcoming by-election for the Kaohsiung City Council, after the Kaohsiung Prosecutor's Office arrested seven bribery suspects Tuesday night.

"Premier Yu ordered law enforcement agencies to keep a close watch for vote-buying on the eve of the by-election, in order to demonstrate the government's determination to eradicate the perennial scourge of `black gold,'" Cabinet Spokesman Chen Chi-mai (陳其邁) said after the weekly Cabinet meeting yesterday.

Chen said that Yu had directed authorities to clamp down on suspected bribery cases quickly and severely -- so long as there was sufficient evidence -- regardless of the criminals' status or political party.

Despite the relaxed election campaign, the Kaohsiung anti-vote-buying task force has received reports of more than 30 cases of vote-buying, and four local vote captains and three voters have already confessed to accepting bribes as of Tuesday night.

Two of the suspects admitted that they had been offered between NT$500 to NT$1,000 for their ballots, while a vote captain was caught with a list of names of suspected bribe-takers. The task force is now attempting to determine if it was the candidates that were trying to grease the palms of voters, or simply overly enthusiastic vote captains.

The by-election on Saturday is being held to replace the 18 former councilors who lost their seats for accepting bribes in last December's council speaker election, which is the largest scandal in Taiwan's election history for a municipal government.

Chu An-hsiung (朱安雄), who won the speaker seat through bribery, was sentenced to 22 months in jail. Chu now tops the nation's 10 most wanted list of fugitives, as he fled the country after being released on NT$5 million in bail prior to reporting to jail to serve his sentence.

The Southern Taiwan Society yesterday said that the local vote captains were still trying to buy votes because the punishment for bribery is so minor that no one is intimidated.

In a press release, the society asked the Ministry of Justice to revise the law and strengthen the punishment for bribery to uproot the inveterate vote-buying culture.

In the by-election, 47 candidates will contend for the 18 city councilor seats. However, 11 of the candidates are family members of the city councilors who were ousted, mostly the wives or daughters of dismissed councilors.

For example, Chu's daughter, Chu Ting-shan (朱挺珊), will run as an independent candidate. The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has also nominated three candidates from the families of disgraced councilors.

As the DPP's campaign mastermind, Kaohsiung Mayor Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) held a low-key attitude about DPP's nomination, saying an exclusive interview with the Taipei Times that democracy was decided by the people, and that he believed in the wisdom of the people.

"I think the scandal surrounding the Kaohsiung City Council speaker election was the tip of the iceberg among the city councils around the country," Hsieh said. "However, the by-election is also a necessary labor pain in the development of Taiwan's democracy."

"It might be good for Kaohsiung City to be the first to tear off its scab," Hsieh said.

Hsieh predicted that the pan-green camp has a great chance of winning more than half the seats in the by-election, as long as the DPP's campaign momentum is maintained and vote-buying is effectively prevented by the law enforcement agencies.

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