Mon, Jan 07, 2008 - Page 3 News List

Legislative elections and referendums: FEATURE: Prosecutors face difficult fight against vote-buying

CHANGING THE RULES Since last year, the government has required prosecutors to file lawsuits seeking to annul election results if a winner is indicted for bribing voters

By Rich Chang  /  STAFF REPORTER

Authorities are on high alert ahead of Saturday's legislative elections after allegations of vote-buying emerged involving several candidates.

But despite a high reward for tips that lead to the conviction of anyone involved in buying votes, getting a hand on vote-buying is no easy task, Kaohsiung Prosecutor Chang Hsueh-ming (張學明) said.

The Ministry of Justice has offered an NT$10 million (US$300,000) reward for any information leading to a guilty sentence on vote-buying charges.

But Chang said the handsome reward does very little in reality.

RELUCTANT

People who are privy to information about vote-buying are usually reluctant to report what they know to law enforcement officers, he said. This may be because of family ties or friendship.

A Taitung County public servant who came forward with a tip last year was the exception to the rule, Chang said, adding that the man, who was awarded for his information, faced harassment in his neighborhood after the incident and eventually had to leave his home town.

With elections less than one week away, several candidates already bear the stigma of vote-buying allegations.

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Chiang Lien-fu (江連福), who is seeking re-election, has been prohibited from leaving his residence and the country while police investigate whether Chiang bribed a township councilor to buy votes for him.

One of Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Hsu Kuo-yung's (徐國勇) campaigners was detained on suspicion of offering voters meal tickets in return for their votes.

Several of KMT Legislator Chang Sho-wen's (張碩文) campaigners were also detained for allegedly offering NT$500 per vote.

Prosecutors said they believe Chang's campaigners had paid for around 1,400 votes before being arrested.

Independent Legislator May Chin's (高金素梅) legislative office was searched and more than 30 Ilan County residents were under investigation after allegations emerged that Chin used her influence to secure jobs for supporters.

DIRTY CAMPAIGNS?

On Saturday, Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) said there were more than 6,000 reports of vote-buying on behalf of legislative candidates.

Chen Chun-ming (陳俊明), a professor of public policy and management at Shih Hsin University, said prosecutors must take the lead in fighting vote-buying.

But the government has placed more of the work into the hands of local police, hoping that local authorities, with their wealth of knowledge about their communities, will be more effective at locating vote-buying suspects.

PUBLIC OPINION

In an annual survey released last month by the Taiwan chapter of Transparency International (TI), most respondents said they believed the problem of vote-buying was getting worse.

Chen, who supervised the survey, said that 64.7 percent of respondents were dissatisfied with the government's efforts to stop vote-buying.

Chen, however, lauded law enforcement officials for their efforts as being on the right track: "The crackdown gives the public the impression that vote-buying is rampant, but in the long-run, the country is benefitting from these efforts."

FIGHTING BACK

Lin Ching-tsung (林慶宗), a prosecutor with the Taiwan High Court's Kaohsiung office, said that getting tough on candidates is the only way to stop vote-buying.

Since last year, the Ministry of Justice has required that prosecutors file a lawsuit seeking to annul election results if the winning candidate -- or anyone from his or her campaign office -- is indicted on vote-buying charges, Lin said.

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