Tue, Mar 27, 2007 - Page 3 News List

Absentee voting bill causes squabbles

COMMITTEE CANCELED A meeting designed to review a KMT-proposed bill allowing overseas Taiwanese to vote was called off after lawmakers began a protracted row

By Shih Hsiu-chuan and Flora Wang  /  STAFF REPORTERS

A bill that would establish an absentee voting program, which is expected to be a potentially critical factor in determining the outcome of next year's presidential election, sparked a fierce quarrel in the legislature's Home and Nations Committee yesterday.

The meeting was held to review a Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT)-proposed bill which details the process for absentee voting during elections.

Lawmakers got involved in an altercation over a review of the bill before co-chair Tsai Hau (蔡豪), of the Non-Partisan Solidarity Union, was able to start the meeting.

"You are a lackey of China," Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Chen Chin-de (陳金德) said to KMT Legislator Ting Shou-jung (丁守中), the main initiator of the bill.

"There are national security concerns. Who can guarantee that the Chinese won't check the ballots to check whether they have voted for its favored candidate," DPP Legislator Kuo Jeng-liang (郭正亮) asked KMT lawmakers.

There are estimated to be approximately 1 million Taiwanese businesspeople living and working in China.

While the bill states that voters who are unable to cast ballots in person on election day because of illness and six other conditions would be eligible to apply for absentee ballots, the DPP alleged that the bill was introduced solely for Taiwanese businessmen.

"About 2.5 million voters, or 15 percent of the nation's eligible voters, don't live at their registered residences. Absentee ballots can save them the trouble of returning home to vote. It will not only reduce transportation costs, but also increase turnout," Ting said.

Ting's proposal states that people who handle electoral administration, military personnel and police who are on duty on election day, and people who study or work in counties or cities outside their registered residences can apply for absentee ballots.

Taiwan Solidarity Union Legislator David Huang (黃適卓) said that the absentee voting program was only acceptable under circumstances where people who work overseas are excluded from voting.

"We have to preclude the possibility that the Chinese authorities will influence the result of Taiwan's election by manipulating the absentee ballots," Huang said.

Central Election Commission Chairman Chang Cheng-hsiung (張政雄) was unable to present his case because of the bickering among lawmakers.

Chang said in a written report that the risk of an absentee voting system is that voters might be forced to vote against their will, which is something that needs to be taken into account given Taiwan's special relationship with China.

Struggling to chair the proceedings amid the chaos, Tsai dismissed the meeting and said he would arrange another meeting to review the bill.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) caucus yesterday urged Ting to withdraw the bill, which will allow overseas compatriots with Taiwanese nationality to cast ballots via mail.

DPP caucus whip Wang Sing-nan (王幸男) told a press conference that Ting's proposal was unconstitutional because the Constitution stipulates that citizens of the nation should cast their ballots directly in elections.

Article two of the Amendment to the Constitution also stipulates that overseas Taiwanese who retain their nationality should return to the nation to cast their votes in elections, Wang said.

DPP Legislator Chang Ching-hui (張慶惠), who was also at the conference, said it would be hard to prevent Taiwanese businessmen and students in China from casting their ballots without them being manipulated by China if Ting's proposal were passed.

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