A proposal by the Taiwan Joint Irrigation Association (TJIA) president to have presidents and commissioners of irrigation associations directly appointed by the government rather than elected from among representatives has sparked accusations of being anti-democratic.
Yang Ming-feng (楊明風) said the direct appointments would help curb rampant bribery and violence surrounding the votes.
Yang, who doubles as president of Chia Nan Irrigation Association, submitted the proposal during a members’ convention of the TJIA earlier this month, in which he proposed an amendment to the Irrigation Association Organization General Principles (農田水利會組織通則) to replace the current system for selecting association presidents and commissioners with direct appointment by the government.
Before 1994, members of irrigation associations were put in charge of selecting their representatives, while the latter took charge of electing association presidents, the proposal said.
However, such an election system led to vote-buying and violence, forcing the legislature to amend the principles.
The legislature changed the title of representative to commissioner and stipulated that both association presidents and commissioners were to be directly appointed.
The first directly appointed president and association commissioners were announced on June 1, 1994.
A direct election system was brought back again in 2002, Yang said, adding that the voting not only wastes money and manpower, but has widened regional divisions and sparked factional clashes.
Yang also said that widespread vote-buying and violence by gangsters had damaged the integrity of the three elections so far, and disappointed public expectations.
All three elections had had a turnout of between 20 percent and 40 percent, which highlighted the indifference of most farmers and showed the results did not reflect public opinion, Yang said.
Selecting candidates by direct appointment would not only avoid interference from local factions, but also boost the professional image of the associations, he added.
However, Yang’s proposal was met with a scathing rebuttal by several presidents of regional irrigation associations, who are also members of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). They included the heads of the Yilan Irrigation Association, the Pingtung Irrigation Association, the Farm Irrigation Association of Kaohsiung Taiwan and the Taoyuan Irrigation Association.
Yilan Irrigation Association president Hsu Nan-shan (許南山) called the proposal a “rollback of democracy,” saying the quadrennial election subjected the associations’ key roles to close scrutiny from their members.
Direct appointments would only lead to the disregarding of opinions of farmers and grassroots members, because association presidents could easily obtain reappointment by ingratiating themselves with the central government, Hsu said.
“Elections empower people to make decisions and should not be tarnished by vote-buying or political factional allegations. If such reasons to resume direct appointment are considered tenable, then the government might as well suspend elections for all posts and resort to direct appointments,” Hsu said.
In response, Yang said direct appointments would not constitute a “rollback of democracy,” because such associations rely mainly on government funds.