Mon, Dec 29, 2003 - Page 2 News List

Penghu ready for growth, with or without a casino


The site of Great Penghu, a soon-to-be-built five-star hotel and resort.


While Penghu's English-speaking population constitutes a small minority of an already small community, two terms -- "casino" and "Las Vegas" -- seem to have transcended linguistic barriers on the offshore archipelago.

Years of heated debate on the issue of legalized gambling in Penghu have popularized the two terms, slowly integrating them into residents' vocabulary.

Given the widespread familiarity of Penghu residents with the county government's bid to establish legalized casinos, it came as a surprise to government authorities that only 21 percent of Penghu's eligible voters showed up to vote during Saturday's referendum on the issue.

The turnout for Saturday's referendum was only 21 percent. Organized and initiated by the county government's department of tourism, the referendum had been anticipated as an accurate and democratic representation of public sentiment.

When the ballots were tallied at the end of the day, 7,830 indicated support for the county government's continued bid to legalize casinos, while 5,984 voted in opposition.


While scant referendum participation triggered a variety of explanations ranging from Saturday's cold weather to the large percentage of Penghu residents living in Taiwan proper, county councilor and former county commissioner Kao Chih-peng (高植澎) asserted that the results had brought to light other issues that deserve attention.

He explained that the resident's chilly response to the referendum revealed a need for more education on democratic processes.

"There were no candidates in the referendum and therefore no candidates to offer transportation allowances to voters," Kao said, referring to a common vote-buying tactic during which voters are compensated for their support under the guise of transportation fees.

Kao said that a similar vote on casino legalization in Penghu had been held last June in conjunction with the borough and village chief elections -- the turnout rate had been 49.6 percent. This election was criticized as unfair and residents had purportedly been allowed to vote more than once.

Penghu Tourism Department Director Lin Yaw-ken (林耀根) agreed that the lack of candidates was problematic in garnering voter participation.

boost participation

"In the future we should consider conducting referendums in conjunction with political elections to boost participation rates. Because there were no candidates, no one really had the incentive to mobilize votes," Lin said.

In addition, Shih Chao-hwei (釋昭慧), a founding member of the Alliance Against Legalized Gambling, said that voters did not completely understand the issue.

"A voter who had been mobilized to vote actually asked why the president's name was not on the ballot," Shih said.

Kao agreed that many voters in the rural areas did not understand the referendum process.

"A lot of voters in rural areas, some of whom are illiterate, are used to voting according to the photographs of candidates that appear on the ballot. They just did not understand how to vote on the referendum," Kao said.


While 57 percent of those who voted were in favor of constructing casinos in the county, the results have triggered a debate as to whether the referendum results could be seen as representative of the opinion of Penghu residents.

"The county government will stick with what the council had originally decided -- a relative majority, not an absolute majority, will represent the opinion of Penghu residents," said County Commissioner Lai Feng-wei (賴峰偉).

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