Fri, Apr 01, 2011 - Page 3 News List

Poll merger scheme sparks concern over the disenfranchised

By Vincent Y. Chao  /  Staff Reporter

Moving the date of the presidential election forward two months to combine it with legislative elections could disenfranchise as many as 50,000 first-time voters, critics opposed to the plan said yesterday.

Amid efforts to drive up turnout and reduce administrative costs, the Central Election Commission plans to hold a meeting on April 19 to decide whether the presidential and legislative elections should be combined.

Under the existing law, newly elected legislators take office on Feb. 1 and the presidential elect on May 20, meaning that a combined election would have to be held in January at the latest.

However, citing news reports, lawmakers said about 50,000 first-time voters born between January and March 1992 would have to wait four more years to cast their ballots if the presidential election was brought forward.

“We are talking about 50,000 votes. It’s a large number — potentially election changing,” Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) caucus whip Gao Jyh-peng (高志鵬) said. “These are issues that need to be considered.”

Asked about the first-time voter issue in the legislature, officials from the commission said the topic would not be a focus of the April 19 meeting.

“Once we settle on a date, there will be people with voting rights and without voting rights. It will not be a factor in the merger or otherwise of the presidential and legislative elections,” commission vice chairman Liu Yi-chou (劉義周) said.

The preliminary date being studied by the commission is to hold both elections on Jan. 14, rather than to hold the presidential election separately on March 17. sources said.

The issue of first-time voters is the latest challenge to the mooted merger proposal, which the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) supports and the DPP opposes.

The DPP has said it would support the “general direction” of the policy, but has cautioned that more time is needed to make it viable, making it difficult to implement for next year’s elections.

“Merging the two elections is something that should be done in the future,” DPP Secretary--General Su Jia-chyuan (蘇嘉全) said after a party meeting on March 7.

It is a sensitive topic for DPP lawmakers, who do not want to see the legislative race dominated by a national focus on the presidential candidates. The local elections should remain rooted in regional rather than national issues, they say.

Critics have also drawn attention to the four months a -president-elect would have to wait before assuming office on May 20.

However, polls show a majority supports the plan.

A Ministry of the Interior survey last week found 60.4 percent of the public supports the idea of an election merger, about twice the 31.1 percent opposed.

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