Independent Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) will not be fined for promoting the recall campaign against Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Alex Tsai (蔡正元), the Taipei City Election Commission announced yesterday.
The announcement followed a five-month investigation into campaign and promotional activities during the historic recall effort, which was the first in 20 years.
Under the Election and Recall Act (公務人員選舉罷免法), promotional activities supporting a recall are illegal and subject to fines of between NT$100,000 and NT$1 million (US$3,148 and US$31,476).
Ko drew special notice for his apparent support for the recall campaign against Tsai — who had served as the campaign manager for his opponent during last year’s mayoral election.
Ko posted an acrostic poem (藏頭詩) on the recall campaign on Facebook, with the first characters of each verse, when read together, calling for the campaign to “pass 50 percent.”
Taipei City Election Commission Deputy Director-General Huang Hsi-ming (黃細明) said Ko would not be fined for his Facebook post because calling for the campaign to “pass 50 percent” could mean calling for turnout to reach the threshold for the recall to have legal validity, rather than calling for Tsai’s recall.
Under the Election and Recall Act, voter turnout must reach 50 percent for the result to be legally binding.
Huang said that the commission had consulted past precedents on enforcing bans on campaign activity on election day to rule out fines for individual Facebook posts calling for the success of the recall campaign on the grounds that such posts were “individual speech” rather than a “campaign activity.”
The exception was promotional activities designed to generate publicity, such as promising to make donations if the recall passed, he said.
“What is banned is not ‘promotion,’ but ‘promotion activities,’” he said.
“For something to constitute a ‘promotional activity,’ it has to be systematic and organized, rather than just being one person. If it is just the speech of one person, we feel that the constitutional guarantee of free speech should be respected,” he said.
He confirmed that the commission had ruled that “carnivals” (園遊會) and other rally-like events held during the campaign would be subject to fines. The commission had ruled that all cases would be subject only to the minimum fine stipulated, he said.
“That someone supporting a recall is subject to this many restrictions is ‘unequal’ to say the least,” he said.
“At a time when democratic activities are flourishing, to completely limit these activities [to promote recall] is behind the times,” Huang said.
Unlike restrictions on campaigning around election day, which have clearly defined boundaries, restrictions on campaigning for recalls are “boundless,” making them difficult to enforce, he said.
A total of 83 fines were issued by the commission and are to take effect on Aug. 27, after those accused have had the opportunity to present their views.
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