Fri, Nov 30, 2007 - Page 3 News List

ANALYSIS: Vote-buying ruling bad news, analysts say

By Flora Wang and Rich Chang  /  STAFF REPORTERS

Supporters of Democratic Progressive Party Kaohsiung mayoral candidate Chen Chu accuse her opponent of buying votes at a press conference on Dec. 9 last year. Two people charged with vote-buying were cleared of charges last Friday.

PHOTO: CHANG CHUNG-YI, TAIPEI TIMES

As legislative hopefuls gear up for their campaigns ahead of the Jan. 12 legislative elections, last Friday's ruling on vote-buying allegations concerning the Kaohsiung mayoral election risks generating more controversy before their campaigns are over, political analysts said.

The Kaohsiung District Court acquitted Ku Hsin-ming (古鋅酩) and Tsai Neng-hsiang (蔡能祥) of vote-buying charges, finding they had "solicited" votes for last December's mayoral poll, not bought them.

The allegations surfaced when the campaign camp of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) mayoral candidate, Chen Chu (陳菊), accused Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) candidate Huang Chun-ying's (黃俊英) camp of bribing voters at a last minute press conference late on the night before the election.

After Chen won the election, Huang went to court, demanding the election results be annulled on the basis that Chen's midnight press conference left him no time to respond to the accusation, thereby causing his defeat by the razor-thin margin of 1,140 votes.

Huang won in the first trial against Chen, but lost in the second and final trial on Nov. 16, in which the Kaohsiung branch of the Taiwan High Court said Chen's victory was valid.

Ku later admitted that he had rented two buses to transport voters to an election rally for Huang on the eve of the election and paid them on the return trip from the rally for their votes for "a candidate in the Kaohsiung mayoral election and a Kaohsiung City councilor candidate."

The court found that although the two defendants admitted they had paid NT$500 per person, the money should be considered payment for time and energy spent at the rally, rather than as a bribe as defined under the Public Officials Election and Recall Law (公職人員選舉罷免法).

The court said that payment made at campaign events organized by groups to solicit support for a specific candidate are not equivalent to vote-buying.

Kaohsiung Prosecutor Lin Yung-fu (林永富), who probed the case and indicted Ku and Tsai, told the Taipei Times that the court's decision was unreasonable.

A "payment" is made by an employer to an employee, he said.

Ku offered individuals on the bus NT$500 each and asked them to vote for "a candidate in the Kaohsiung mayoral election and a Kaohsiung City councilor candidate," he said, adding that this does not meet the definition of payment for labor, and therefore constitutes a bribe.

The prosecutors have said they will appeal the ruling.

Chang Hsueh-ming (張學明), lead prosecutor at the Kaohsiung branch of the Taiwan High Court Prosecutors' Office, said the ruling had damaged the judiciary by deviating from sentences handed down in similar cases.

Five supporters of Luo Wen-chia (羅文嘉), a former DPP candidate for Taipei County commissioner, were found guilty by the Banciao District Court for paying a NT$300 "walking fee" to selected participants at a campaign rally in November 2005, he said.

In another case, a campaign manager for Taiwan Solidarity Union Legislator Lo Chih-ming (羅志明) was found guilty in Kaohsiung last year, Chang said.

Chang said that prosecutors already suspected vote-buying would occur ahead of the legislative elections -- in particular because a new system will halve the number of legislative seats -- but the Kaoshiung District Court ruling risks sending the message that "walking fees" are an acceptable way to "solicit" votes, thereby increasing vote-buying activity.

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