Tue, Dec 14, 2004 - Page 3 News List

Foreign observers have bones to pick with vote allocation

By Melody Chen  /  STAFF REPORTER

The vote-allocation strategies employed by the major political parties in the legislative elections restricted the freedom of expression of voters and infringed on their privacy, a group of international election observers said.

The Asian Network for Free Elections, which observed the weekend's poll with financial support from the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy, publicized its findings at a press conference yesterday.

A "genuinely fair" election requires that voters are able to exercise the fundamental right of freedom of expression and that their privacy is protected, said Philippine electoral observer Damaso Guerrero Magbual, who headed the mission.

"The vote allocation system violates the freedom of expression because [the candidates] that the parties allocate to voters may not be consistent with choices of the voters," Magbual said.

Despite the ballot-allocation strategies, many voters tended to vote for candidates of their own choice, said Thai electoral observer Chamnong Watanagase, who agreed that the strategy was also unfair to candidates.

The group, consisting of local and foreign election observers from Japan, Indonesia, Cambodia, Malaysia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, said the election process was peaceful and carried out with a high degree of professionalism but the tone and content of the campaign was not so admirable.

"Policies and programs are severely neglected and replaced by personal appeals and mudslinging or `black campaigning' attacks," the group said in its report.

Taiwan's media, the report said, failed to play a constructive role in the process. It said that even mainstream media outlets were usually partisan and not constructive.

"In some areas, underground radio stations play an even less wholesome role, free as they are from most legal liability," the report said.

The media should place more emphasis in their reporting on issues and policies of the candidates and parties to uphold the professional responsibilities of journalists, the group said.

"We observed a high level of apathy in the society. Voters were obviously fatigued with electioneering, and even very imaginative and expensive campaigns found it difficult to arouse much interest," said the observers, adding many organizations gave up trying to promote their issues in the election as a result.

The observers expressed concern about the politicization of election authorities, especially the Central Election Commission (CEC), whose members are appointed through a process that leaves them vulnerable to accusations of bias by opposition parties.

But the group found no evidence of partiality in the CEC's operations.

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