The Kaohsiung District Court yesterday returned a verdict of not-guilty for two men charged with vote-buying in the Kaohsiung mayoral election last December.
Last year, then Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) mayoral candidate Chen Chu (陳菊) accused Ku Hsin-ming (古鋅酩) and Tsai Neng-hsiang (蔡能祥) of handing out money to supporters on chartered buses on their way to an election-eve rally for Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) mayoral candidate Huang Chun-ying (黃俊英).
The two later admitted that they had given passengers on the buses NT$500 each in return for their votes for "a candidate in the Kaohsiung mayoral election and a Kaohsiung city councilor candidate."
The judges, while acknowledging that the accused had handed out money, found Ku and Tsai not-guilty because they decided that the money was given as payment for attending the campaign rally. As recipients were not required to vote for Huang, this did not amount to vote-buying, the judges ruled.
The court said the men had attempted to solicit votes, rather than buy votes.
Upon hearing of the ruling, Kaohsiung prosecutors said they would appeal to the high court.
"This verdict could mislead candidates and their campaign managers into believing that what happened in this case does not amount to vote-buying. That is not correct," said Chung Chung-hsiao (鍾忠孝), spokesman for the Kaohsiung District Prosecutors Office.
Chung said a campaign manager had been found guilty in a similar case in Kaohsiung last year.
"It is not right that different judges make different rulings when the charges and crimes are the same," Chung said. "We cannot accept it [the ruling] and will appeal."
When approached for comment, Chen, now mayor of Kaohsiung, said that the verdict was not in keeping with the Ministry of Justice's definition of vote-buying.
Chen said the verdict was tantamount to telling legislative candidates that they would not be found guilty of buying votes as long as they did not give anyone more than NT$500.
Chen said she expected an "impartial" verdict on appeal.
Chen defeated Huang in the election by 379,417 votes to 378,303 votes, a margin of 0.14 percent.
Huang filed two lawsuits on Dec. 28, one challenging the election process, the other the result.
The Kaohsiung District Court ruled in June that Chen's camp had violated the Election and Recall Law (
Chen appealed, which led to a final verdict last Friday in which the Taiwan High Court's Kaohsiung branch overruled the district court ruling that had annulled Chen's victory.
Additional reporting by Flora Wang and staff writer