The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) has allegedly postponed all funding for groups of international academics who had applied to come to Taiwan to monitor the January elections, sources said yesterday.
In one case, a group of four academics from Australia that obtained approval more than a month ago was informed by officials at the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Canberra on Thursday that the grant would be postponed until late January, meaning that it would be made available only after the elections.
For that delegation, funding was to cover accommodation for four nights and five days through the Jan. 14 elections, as well as airfares. The members of the delegation were informed about the decision in writing.
According to one source knowledgeable of the affair, the decision came from “high up” at the ministry and “all delegations,” including those from the US and Europe, were also reportedly informed that funding deals were postponed.
The source said the ministry claimed it had been “deluged” with applications and did not have sufficient resources or funding to support them, and that rather than having to choose between delegations, it had opted for postponement.
The decision has given rise to speculation among some of the would-be delegates that the real reason behind the decision to postpone the visits is that President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration is nervous about the outcome of the elections and does not want to lose face in the presence of foreign observers.
Another source contacted for comment said that if the reason behind the decision to postpone the visits was a lack of finances or human resources, then the funding would have been canceled altogether rather than pushed back until after the election.
In response, ministry spokesman James Chang (章計平) yesterday denied that the ministry had instructed its overseas missions to arrange visits for international election observers to the country after the election date.
“As a democratic country based on the rule of law, it is impossible that we would reject international election observers. The ministry welcomes election observers and is willing to provide administrative assistance,” Chang said.
Chang said that earlier this month, the ministry issued an instruction to its overseas missions setting out guidelines about invitations to election observers.
Because of budget limitations, the ministry would not invite extensive numbers of people from the international community to observe the election, but it did not ask that visits scheduled to observe the election be postponed indefinitely, he said.
In related developments, the Taipei Times has learned that efforts are ongoing in the US to have high-profile observers present in Taiwan during and after the elections. According to one of the individuals involved in those efforts, former US president Jimmy Carter has been approached to lead the delegation of “fair election observers.”
Carter’s office has yet to respond to the invitation.
Staff from Republican and Democrat members of the US Congress are also reportedly planning to send delegations to Taiwan to monitor the elections.
The potential US delegation, which is working closely with US representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, is also hoping the US will send carrier groups to patrol international waters west of Taiwan, as it has done during past presidential elections. It is hoped the patrol would last until May, when the new or re-elected president steps into office.