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Fri, Mar 09, 2001 - Page 3 News List

Government tries to tackle problem of electoral fraud

By Stephanie Low  /  STAFF REPORTER

Amid reports of rampant vote-buying in the on-going DPP primary for the year-end legislative elections, both the Executive and Legislative Yuan are stepping up their efforts to amend the Public Officials Elections and Recall Law (公職人員選舉罷免法) to fight the problem of electoral fraud.

Currently, the law only punishes vote-buying practices in public elections. Vote-buying in party primaries is not a criminal offense.

"Political parties are now categorized as civic organizations, and electoral fraud within the parties is not subject to crackdowns by law-enforcement authorities. This situation has created a legal loophole," said DPP Legislator Chang Ching-fang (張清芳).

Chang and Trong Chai (蔡同榮), another DPP legislator, have initiated a set of amendments intended to penalize vote-buying in party primaries by the same standards as those that apply to the election of public officials.

Under this proposal, people engaging in vote-buying in primaries would face imprisonment of up to five years and fines of up to NT$6 million, while those who do so for profit, such as the go-between in a vote-buying deal, would face imprisonment of up to seven years and fines of up to NT$5 million.

The legislature's Home and Border Affairs Committee is set to review the proposal on Monday. Chang and Chai said they hope the legislature will pass the amendments soon, so that they will be applicable to the DPP primary ballot on April 1, as well as the subsequent primaries to be held by the KMT and the People First Party (PFP).

"Vote-buying is a source of chaos in Taiwan's society. The amendments are not targeted only at the DPP, because other parties are going to hold primaries too," Chai said.

Unlike the DPP, which has had a long history of holding primary elections, the KMT and PFP are holding primaries for the very first time this year.

Though holding a primary election is considered a democratic way for a party to decide its nominees for public elections, reports of vote-buying have marred the reputation of such elections.

Recent reports suggest that some candidates have spent over NT$100 million buying votes in the DPP primary, and that a single vote is worth at least NT$3,000.

According to Chang, the problem is complicated by the existence of so-called "figurehead party members," who are recruited by middlemen for the mere purpose of acting as go-betweens in vote-buying scams.

A middleman will usually approach candidates, offering them a certain number of votes at a certain price, Chang said.

In the case of the DPP primary, candidates for legislator-at-large seats, whose fate rests totally on the ballot of party members, are widely thought to be the most likely to resort to vote-buying to secure victory.

The seats for legislators-at-large are allocated to political parties based on the total share of their vote in the legislative elections, and each party has a list of candidates to fill these seats.

For candidates seeking nomination to run in geographic constituencies, their qualifications are decided mainly by opinion polls, which constitute a maximum of 70 percent of their total vote. The remaining 30 percent is decided by a ballot of party members.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of the Interior has also drafted a set of amendments to the Public Officials Elections and Recall Law that is to be submitted to the legislature soon.

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