The presidential and legislative elections once again underscored that the nation’s democracy is the envy of many countries in the region, but the polls also exposed some problems, including media bias, a regional election watchdog group said.
After closely observing the electoral process in the run up to Saturday’s polls, representatives of the Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) said voting went smoothly.
With a turnout close to 75 percent, a considerable majority of Taiwan’s voters were able to exercise their rights, the group said.
At a post-election press conference to announce their observations, ANFREL delegates gave credit to Taiwanese for the peaceful and open nature of the campaign period, the competent management of polling stations on election day and the high voter turnout.
The turnout revealed that Taiwanese believe two important things — that their vote will be accurately counted and that exercising their right to choose their own government is important, the group said.
“Both are positive indicators for Taiwan’s democracy,” the group said.
The losing Democratic Progressive Party should be commended for conceding its election defeat in a timely manner, which is consistent with a mature democracy, the group said.
However, despite the success, there were many complaints and acknowledgments from local residents that vote buying remained a problem in some areas, the group said.
The alleged vote buying often took the more indirect and sophisticated form of in-kind vote buying, such as trips or dinners being used to curry favor with voters, the network said.
ANFREL also expressed concern about campaign finance expenditures.
“Uneven resources can result in an unhealthy democratic culture and an uneven playing field that harms the election’s fairness,” it said.
The group suggested that the Central Election Commission (CEC) and other government oversight bodies should ensure a more even playing field by strengthening campaign finance laws.
In addition, the media environment was commendably open and free, but was often regrettably compromised and partisan. Such media bias was witnessed on both sides of the political divide, it said.
According to the ANFREL, the media must take their role as journalists more seriously, and the public and the Taipei-based Civil Congress Watch, which invited the ANFREL delegation to Taiwan, must demand more from the media.
“A stable, mature democracy needs an independent media, without which Taiwan’s democracy will suffer and the political polarization evident in some areas will grow,” it said.
The ANFREL delegation had members from countries including Japan, South Korea, Thailand and Malaysia. During their visit which began on Jan. 6 and ended on Monday, the delegates visited the CEC, the candidates’ campaign headquarters and observed the actual electoral process in Taipei, Chiayi and Yunlin.