Fri, Feb 01, 2008 - Page 2 News List

Saisiat to hold elections

EMBRACING DEMOCRACY An Aboriginal community of about 6,000 people in Hsinchu County will on Sunday become the first in the nation to hold tribal elections

By Loa Iok-sin  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Saisiat Aboriginal community in Hsinchu will on Sunday hold elections for their assembly's lower house, upper house speaker Chu Feng-lu (朱逢祿) said yesterday.

"Members of the upper house of the assembly, after a prolonged and careful discussion, have made the decision [to hold the elections] for the sake of the survival of our people," he said in Taipei. "This will be the first time in Taiwan's history that an Aboriginal tribe holds a tribal election."

The Saisiat, who number approximately 6,000, live mainly in areas close to the Central Mountain Range in Hsinchu and Miaoli counties.

Tribal assemblies like that of the Saisiat cannot make any legally binding decisions until the Aboriginal autonomy bill passes the legislature. However, such assemblies allow Aborigines to voice their collective opinions.

Collective decision-making has long been a Saisiat tradition, said Ken Chih-you (根誌優), who is organizing the elections.

"Since as far back as we can remember, the Saisiat have been making decisions on tribal issues based on negotiations among leaders of the 15 family clans within the tribe," he said.

He said the formation of an assembly with an upper and a lower house was a compromise that allowed the Saisiat to preserve their traditions.

"The upper house consists of clan leaders who are not elected and cannot be replaced -- they only retire when they choose to," deputy upper house Speaker Chao Shan-ho (趙山河) said.

In reaction to democratic developments outside the tribe, the Saisiat have decided to hold elections for a new lower house in which all Saisiat in Hsinchu over the age of 18 will be eligible to vote.

Thirty-three members in the lower house will be elected from candidates endorsed by five leading clans, while two at-large candidates will be elected to represent young people and women, Ken said. He said that clan members may only vote for candidates endorsed by their clan.

In addition, 10 honorary seats will be allocated to representatives from the local township office, civic groups, or schools, for a total of 45 seats in the lower house, Ken said.

To prevent more populous clans monopolizing power, only one lower house member from each clan will be permitted to vote on any one issue, he said.

"So far, 700 eligible voters have been identified through household registration records," Ken said. "But since we believe there are many more Saisiat out there, unregistered voters may also vote if clan leaders vouch for their eligibility."

Feng Te-hui (風德輝), a Saisiat leader in Miaoli, said his community would observe the elections and may in time follow the Hsinchu community's example.

"When the Saisiat in Miaoli elect their own assembly, we plan to combine the two assemblies into a big, tribe-wide Saisiat Assembly," Ken said.

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