Fri, Mar 30, 2007 - Page 3 News List

Analysis: Absentee voting needs careful study: analysts

POLITICAL PITFALLS While absentee ballots guarantee all citizens the right to vote, they can also be easily manipulated by Beijing or vote-buyers

By Shih Hsiu-chuan  /  STAFF REPORTER

While absentee voting has been widely implemented in a number of countries, political analysts acknowledged that adopting such a system in Taiwan needs careful consideration given the potential pitfalls and political repercussions.

Based on a study conducted by the legislature's Research Bureau in December 2003, more than 20 nations, including Japan and South Korea, allow absentee voting.

Arguing that this is a growing trend, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) recently proposed a bill which details the process for absentee voting.

This is the KMT's third attempt to push forward a bill to promote the system after failing twice in the past, ie, before the 2002 Taipei and Kaohsiung municipal elections and the 2004 presidential elections.

"Absentee voting is a good system as it guarantees the right to vote. Sooner or later, it will be introduced in Taiwan, just like the referendum," said Chen Yen-hui (陳延輝), a professor at National Taiwan Normal University's Graduate Institute of Political Science.

The problem, however, is the consequence of implementing such a system, Chen said.

Previous discussions to enact an absentee voting law have been stone-walled by pan-green legislators, who believe the system would favor the pan-blues during elections.

Voters that are likely to take advantage of an absentee voting system include China-based Taiwanese businesspeople, military personnel, police and overseas government officials -- a majority of whom are traditionally deemed as supporters of the pan-blue camp.

In this regard, what the pan-greens support is a system in which only domestic voters can apply for absentee ballots, to preclude overseas absentee voters from playing a critical role in elections which have shown a trend of narrowing the green-blue divide.

"It's too early to predict which party will benefit from an absentee voting system as various factors determine the outcome of elections," Chen said.

Citing Germany as an example, Chen said that as Berlin is not allowed to set up polling booths in Switzerland, Germans living there often encounter difficulties posting their ballots back home.

Chen said that Taiwanese living in China might experience similar problems.

"Just like Germany -- with most of its overseas nationals living in Switzerland -- most of Taiwan's overseas nationals live in China ... not to mention that China is an unfriendly country to Taiwan," he said.

Although an absentee voting system may be established in theory, ensuring that Taiwanese absentee voters in China will not be forced to vote against their will and be able to mail their ballots back home are practical problems that have to be dealt with, he said.

Chi Chun-chen (紀俊臣), a former high-level electoral official who now teaches politics at Tunghai University, defended the absentee voting system.

"Worries over China should not be a factor in depriving the public of the right to vote -- a basic human right. It is believed that no more than 200,000 taishang [overseas Taiwanese businesspeople] would apply for absentee ballots, a small portion considering a total of 16 million eligible voters," Chi said.

The Straits Exchange Foundation, a semi-official organization handling cross-strait matters, places the figure at approximately 1 million Taiwanese businesspeople living and working in China.

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