At least one armored open-top jeep will be made available to presidential and vice presidential candidates in the run-up to the elections in January, the National Security Bureau (NSB) said yesterday.
However, it remains uncertain whether candidates other than President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), who is seeking re-election, will receive similar protection, said the civilian intelligence agency, which will take over election security after November.
The bureau has failed to quell concerns that Democratic Progressive Party Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), Ma’s main rival, will receive less stringent protection than the president, who will have access to two armored cars during the electoral campaign.
While election-related violence is generally rare in Taiwan, concerns over security remain, especially in the wake of a shooting incident involving Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Central Committee member Sean Lien (連勝文) on Nov. 26 while stumping for Chen Hung-yuan (陳鴻源), a KMT candidate.
In 2004, then-president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and vice president Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) were injured in a shooting as they rode in an open-top vehicle in Tainan the day before the election.
“Elections in democratic countries all over the world are based on equality [between candidates] and national security agencies should have made the appropriate preparations,” Tsai spokesperson Hsu Chia-ching (徐佳青) said, calling the failure to provide Tsai with an armored vehicle an “NSB problem.”
Bulletproof open-top jeeps are mainly used for slow campaign processions, but are impractical for routine travel in the run-up to the elections. None of the other vehicles provided by the bureau to the candidates are armored.
The need for an armored passenger car was recognized “as early as 2008,” Hsu said.
A front-page report yesterday in the Chinese-language China Times quoted unnamed NSB officials as saying that despite the two shooting incidents, the agency was “too cash-strapped” to procure a new bulletproof vehicle.
The bureau maintains an aging armored Lincoln left over from the Chen administration, which would most likely be used to transport Tsai if needed, the agency said in a statement.
“On the issue of bulletproof passenger cars for presidential candidates, the bureau will assign resources with flexibility based on security needs,” the statement said, adding that it would also extend the same courtesy to the president.
No candidates, with the exception of incumbent presidents, are believed to have used bulletproof vehicles in past presidential elections, including Ma when he ran in 2008.
The decision to introduce the bulletproof jeeps, which are heavily armored in the front and on both sides, came after the 2004 shooting, but no decision has ever been made to armor other campaign vehicles that Tsai will use in November when she officially registers as a candidate.
The controversy has led to mixed comments from lawmakers, with some pointing to the paramount importance of election security, especially following last year’s shooting.
“The DPP should not purposefully create difficulties for the [NSB],” KMT Legislator Wu Yu-sheng (吳育昇) said of the matter, despite remarks by fellow lawmakers that the bureau could easily rent or borrow such a vehicle.
Tsai’s campaign says that the bureau used a “controlled leak” to the China Times to expose the shortcoming, not her office.
“We do not understand why the bureau ... would leak to selected media that they lacked funding [for armored cars],” Hsu said. “That’s their problem … not ours.”