Amid heated debate, the Central Election Commission (CEC) yesterday approved regulations that would allow the premier to remove local election commission members from office upon the CEC's request.
The move is seen by many pan-blue politicians as a measure giving the Cabinet the power to replace local election commission members who insist on adopting the two-step voting scheme.
The CEC on Nov. 16 decided to adopt a one-step voting procedure, with both election and referendum ballots being handed out to voters at the entrance of polling stations when two referendums are held simultaneously with the legislative elections on Jan. 12.
Pan-blue camp politicians and the heads of 18 pan-blue controlled cities and counties have insisted on adopting a two-step voting scheme in which voters will have to cast their election ballot first before getting the referendum ballots.
The controversy heightened when the Cabinet recently said it might replace local election commission heads that refused to abide by the CEC's rules."Taiwan's democracy is facing its biggest threat. The CEC should be a neutral and fair organization, but it has become an election tool controlled by President Chen Shui-bian [
In response to Hsinchu Mayor Lin Junq-tzer's (林政則) decision to resign as the city's election commissioner, Huang Yu-cheng (黃玉振), commissioner of the KMT's cultural and communication committee, said it was Lin's decision and that other commissioners supported two-step voting.
"Local commissioners and commission members have rich experience in handling election affairs and they will not be intimidated easily by the Cabinet or the CEC," Huang said.
Acting commissioner of Taitung County Election Commission Chuang Chiong-wen (
Chuang said he left the post to avoid conflict with Taitung County Commissioner Kwong Li-jen (
Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (
Taoyuan County Commissioner Chu Li-lun (朱立倫) and Taipei County Commissioner Chou Hsi-wei (周錫瑋), on the other hand, both stressed that their election commissions would stick to the two-step voting mechanism, urging the Cabinet and Presidential Office not to intervene with election affairs and damage the CEC's neutrality.
"More than 90 percent of commission members have agreed to adopt the two-step voting system. We haven't changed our position," Chu said yesterday before attending a municipal event in Taipei.
Chou dared the CEC to change not only local commissioners, but also tens of thousands of front-line election personnel if it could find enough staff members.
Meanwhile, Vice Premier Chiou I-yen (
"We will do our best and use the most forceful measures to eliminate difficulties in implementing the one-step voting format," Chiou said at the Cabinet's year-end press conference.
There is certainly "a price to pay" as the pan-blue camp is still at loggerheads with the CEC over the voting format, but the country will pay "an ever higher price" if the government does not uphold one-step voting, Chiou said.
"It's not today that we start elections. The electoral system has been implemented for over half a century, but never before have local governments refused to abide by the voting format decided by the CEC. It's only happening now when the KMT is not in power," Chiou said.
There is no reason for the government to refrain from enforcing one-step voting, as the CEC has the authority to decide, he said.
Meanwhile, Premier Chang Chun-hsiung (
"I dare say that there will be a great impact on the March presidential election if [pan-blue local governments] decide to adopt the two-step voting format," Chang said without elaborating.
Chang restated that "administrative, criminal and political responsibilities" would fall upon politicians who do not abide by the one-step voting format.
Meanwhile, KMT caucus whip Kuo Su-chun (郭素春) said the CEC's "controversial" amendments showed the Democratic Progressive Party's attempt to create chaos and influence swing voters.
Another KMT caucus whip, Tseng Yung-chuan (曾永權), said the amendments were "unacceptable" because they did not help resolve the voting procedure controversy.
Tsend also said that any regulation made by the CEC giving it the power to replace local commission directors would be "illegitimate" and "unconstitutional."
"Organic statutes of local election commissions are merely administrative orders," Tseng said.
"What's more, Article Eight of the Election and Recall Law for Civil Servants (公職人員選舉罷免法) -- the legal basis of the CEC's move to amend the organic statutes -- does not include any regulation enabling the CEC to replace local election commissioners," he said.
Tseng said that any change of the "rules of the game" should only apply to future election commissions.
Asked to comment on the resignation of Lin Cheng-tse, Tseng said the resignation proved Cabinet interference in the CEC.
As expected, the discussion yesterday on four amendments concerning the removal of local election commission members into an organic bill on local election commissions was a heated one.
"I don't think it's fair to pass `clauses' that will allow the removal of local election commission members -- it's a humiliation," said Non-Partisan Solidarity Union recommended CEC member Rai Hau-min (賴浩敏) when approached for comment before the meeting. "As most commission members do not draw a salary, it's not right to punish people who work as volunteers."
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT)-recommended member Liu Kuang-hua (
"Organic bills and regulations on personnel affairs should be separate," he said.
After a three-hour meeting, three of the amendments were passed, but the most controversial one was dropped.
"The commission approved amendments allowing the premier to remove local election commission members upon the request of the CEC," CEC Secretary-General Teng Tien-yu (
The amendments stipulate that local election commission members may be removed from office because of severe illness, involvement in illegal conduct or for abandoning their official duties, being detained or indicted, Teng said.
A fourth proposal that they may be fired if they engage in "behavior that may damage the institution's credibility or legitimacy in execution of one's official duties" was dropped because it was too controversial, Teng said.
The CEC may only request a local commission member's removal following ratification by a commission meeting, Teng said.
Teng did not respond when asked if insisting on two-step voting would qualify as "abandoning official duties."
The amendments will be submitted to the Cabinet for approval.
Meanwhile, rocked by the resignations of two local election commissioners, the KMT yesterday dismissed concerns that some of the 18 local governments governed by pan-blues were wavering from their stance on the two-step voting system, while urging the Cabinet to refrain from further damaging the neutrality of the CEC.
KMT Chairman Wu Poh-hsiung (吳伯雄) called on all pan-blue local election commissions to consolidate their efforts and support the two-step voting format, but declined to comment on the party's strategy in response to the Cabinet's "threat" to replace local election commissioners who fail to follow the one-step voting scheme.
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