2012 ELECTIONS: Elections ‘free, partly unfair,’ watchdog says

FEAR FACTORS::An independent observation mission said cross-strait relations and an imbalance in parties’ wealth, among others, weighed on voters

By Chris Wang  /  Staff Reporter

Mon, Jan 16, 2012 - Page 1

The presidential and legislative elections conducted on Saturday were “mostly free, but partly unfair,” because of concerns about an authoritarian legacy and foreign interference, an international election watch group said in Taipei yesterday.

“Taiwan’s autocratic past has become interlinked with pressures from an authoritarian China, which have framed an unfair political context in the elections,” said Michael Danielsen, chairman of Danish group Taiwan Corner.

Danielsen and former US senator and governor of Alaska Frank Murkowski were among 21 observers from eight countries who were invited to Taiwan by the International Commission for Fair Elections in Taiwan (ICFET), a watchdog group of more than 80 international and domestic politicians, academics and democracy advocates, to form an International Election Observation Mission (IEOM).

The mission issued an official statement yesterday after meeting with campaign organizers, staff and candidates, and observing rallies and activities nationwide for the three major political parties between Tuesday and yesterday.

The structural problems of vote-buying, misuse of government power and a huge imbalance in party wealth and resources observed in the elections are at least in part legacies from Taiwan’s authoritarian past, Danielsen said.

Influences from the US and China also posed concerns, in particular those from Beijing, the mission said.

“The cross-strait relations in the context of an economically and politically rising China weighs heavily on the election process in Taiwan. It puts tremendous pressures on Taiwan’s democracy and the freedom and fairness of the choices that its voters must take,” Danielsen said.

“In our view, the fear factor is very important in the elections,” said Gerrit van der Wees, editor of the Taiwan Communique, adding that the factor had built a sense of “fictional stability” for Taiwanese voters.

Murkowski, known for his support for Taiwan’s democracy, said judicial reform should also be in place to ensure fair elections.

The former senator said that fear has been a major factor in people’s deciding which party to support and the “golden rule” — he who has the gold, rules — of political party competition appeared to reflect the imbalanced political situation in Taiwan.

The imbalance between foreign interference and international support for Taiwan’s fair elections was also alarming, said Bruno Kaufmann, president of the Initiative and Referendum Institute Europe, who has observed 11 Taiwanese elections.

The development of Taiwan’s democracy means a lot to Asia, as Taiwan could be a beacon of democracy for all of Asia in the next 20 years, said John Tkacik, senior fellow and director of the International Assessment and Strategy Center’s Future Asia Project.

However, Tkacik warned, looking at what happened in the past 15 years in Hong Kong and Macau, he could not predict what kind of impact China’s system would have on Taiwan in 20 years and it would very likely reflect China’s influence on other Asian democracies over the next 20 years.

“This is the real significance of Taiwan’s democracy. It is a harbinger and a precursor, helping predict the impact of China on democracies throughout the rest of Asia,” he said.