Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Chen Ying (陳瑩) — a Puyuma Aborigine — expressed concern yesterday that proposed amendments to the Local Government Act (地方制度法) may harm Aborigines’ political rights.
“The current version of the act stipulates that all heads of ‘mountain Aboriginal townships’ must be ‘mountain Aborigines.’ But if counties and cities are combined and upgraded as direct-administrated municipalities, such legal advantages for Aborigines will no longer exist,” she said during an Internal Administration Committee meeting at the legislature to review proposed amendments to the act.
Laws categorize the Aboriginal regions, which cover 55 townships, into 30 “mountain Aboriginal townships” and 25 “plains Aboriginal townships,” and stipulate that only “mountain Aborigines” can be mountain Aboriginal township mayors in order to ensure political participation.
However, Chen is concerned about recent proposals from the Cabinet, the DPP legislative caucus and several individual lawmakers across party lines to amend the Local Government Act.
Most of these proposals would allow counties and cities to merge so that they can pass the population threshold of 1.25 million to be upgraded to the status of direct-administrated municipalities.
Only Taipei and Kaohsiung cities have this status now, which gives them a greater degree of autonomy and bigger budgets.
So far, Taipei, Taichung, Nantou, Tainan, Kaohsiung and Pingtung cities and counties have expressed interest in becoming direct-administrated municipalities, whether individually or after mergers between city and county.
“When counties become direct-administrated municipalities, mountain Aboriginal townships — such as Wulai Township [烏來] in Taipei County and Heping Township [和平] in Taichung County — will become administrative districts,” Chen said.
“City district heads are appointed by mayors and there’s no regulation that they should be Aborigines,” she said.
Alang Qalavangan, an aide to Chen, said that if administrative upgrades happen in all counties that are interested in it, “15 townships — which is half of the total number of mountain Aboriginal townships — would become districts in cities.”
“This would be a disaster and a step backward for Aboriginal autonomy,” he said.
The director of the Council of Indigenous Peoples’ [CIP] Planning Department, Wang Chiu-i (汪秋一), said that the council had yet to consider it but promised that it would try to find a solution.
While Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Aboriginal lawmakers supported Chen on the issue, they disagreed with her about breaking the boundary between mountain and plains Aborigines.
“People move around a lot nowadays,” Chen said.
“It’s ridiculous to not allow a plains Aborigine who lives in a mountain Aboriginal township to vote for an Aboriginal candidate just because he or she is not a mountain Aborigine,” she said.
“It’s equally unreasonable that a mountain Aborigine who moves to a non-mountain Aborigine township be banned from voting for a plains Aboriginal candidate,” she said.
However, Aboriginal lawmakers Kung Wen-chi (孔文吉), Yang Jen-fu (楊仁福) and Chien Tung-ming (簡東明) of the KMT disagreed.
If mountain Aborigines could vote or run in a non-mountain Aboriginal electoral district, it would affect plains Aborigines’ rights of political participation, they said.
The three proposed a motion to hold Chen’s suggestions for now and asked the CIP to hold public hearings to gather opinions on the issues.