INTERVIEW: Peng advises vigilance ahead of elections

On April 19, the Central Election Commission (CEC) announced the merger of the presidential and legislative elections, which will likely be held on Jan. 14 next year. Former presidential adviser Peng Ming-min talked to Tzou Jiing-wen, a staff reporter for the ‘Liberty Times’ (the sister paper of the ‘Taipei Times’), saying that the commission has violated the principle of fairness by changing the rules when the game has already begun. Saying the merged polls could make vote-buying even easier, Peng called for strict public scrutiny during election season

Sun, May 08, 2011 - Page 3

Liberty Times (LT):What do you think of the CEC’s decision to merge the two elections?

Peng Ming-min (彭明敏): This decision clearly indicates that the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) has too much to lose and that it is willing to do anything to win. Theoretically speaking, frequent elections are not good for the public and combining elections to save money isn’t wrong, per se. However, consideration must be given to the fact that campaigning has already begun, and the candidates are already preparing for the elections. To suddenly change the rules when the game has already begun goes against the principle of fairness, and that just isn’t right.

Regulations governing the presidential election and the legislative elections are different. Besides, voters who are participating in the two elections are not necessarily the same. Changing the timing of the vote will have an impact on the rights of tens of thousands of first-time voters. Some people have suggested implementing simultaneous elections in the next round of elections [instead of hastily implementing it next year], but the KMT is obviously determined to do whatever it feels would be to its advantage. Whether it will be really advantageous [for the KMT], I don’t know.

With the presidential election being moved forward to January, should there be a change in the party in power, there would be a four-month window [before the presidential inauguration on May 20], which has never happened before in any country.

How will the government operate during this vacuum? It is a problematic issue and in light of the KMT’s past actions, it is not very reassuring. To allow such a long window is unreasonable and yet the KMT doesn’t seem to think much [of this problem]. It’s as if it is sure that victory is at hand and has not considered the possibility that it might lose the election.

There are four possible outcomes to combining the presidential and legislative elections. First, the KMT wins the presidential election and retains its majority in the Legislative Yuan. The three other possibilities are the KMT loses the presidential election [but retains its legislative majority], loses its legislative majority [but retains the presidency], or loses both to the DPP. Can this happen? The KMT doesn’t want to, nor dare, face the issue heads-on.

President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) said he respects the professionalism of the CEC. This is a classic Ma response, and that’s what he has always done.

The CEC’s decision is obviously in line with the KMT’s wishes, with Ma pulling the strings in the background; if anything happens and controversy erupts, Ma can simply deny [any link].

Another thing that has disappointed me is the CEC itself. Theoretically, it is independent, but now it has become the puppet of the KMT, and even justified its decision with public surveys, claiming that a majority of the public favors combining the elections. How reliable is this survey? I don’t know. The CEC also says a month, two, or four months do not make a difference. It’s just equivocating.

Moreover, in response to public doubts, the Presidential Office spokesman said these issues were all just hypothetical scenarios. But all laws are based on suppositions. Suppose you killed a man, how would you be punished? Suppose you lied, how are you to be punished then? How can [the KMT government] avoid this issue by saying they are merely suppositions?

Minister of the Interior Jiang Yi-huah’s (江宜樺) comments that this would be a period of “custodianship” and not lead to a constitutional vacuum is simply a waste of breath. [His comments] basically suggested a lack of courage to face the issue.

The KMT said it would draft and pass a law governing the presidential handover. But in my opinion, whether it passes or not is not the point. The point is that the KMT has had no credibility during the past three years.

Take for example this issue of combining the elections, it is circumventing the Constitution, plowing ahead simply because the KMT wants to. Depending on its effect and situation, the KMT might decide to separate the elections again next time [after 2012.] This shows a complete disregard for the law, and even if a law governing presidential handover is passed, what will it accomplish?

LT: The KMT seems to think that combining the elections will be beneficial for Ma’s cause. Why is that?

Peng: From every aspect, the general perception is that the KMT’s performance in the [coming] legislative election will be worse than before. And with a fewer number of seats [up for grabs], the public would think of it as the defeated party; therefore, the KMT is afraid that if the legislative elections were held first, the results would affect the presidential election two months later.

I’m not clear on the specifics, but no matter what, combined elections open the door to easier bribery. Bribing for one election makes the issue sensitive; bribing for two makes it convenient. This makes for a very unnerving situation.

LT: If Ma loses the election, what would happen in the next four months?

Peng: What we are worried about is that the KMT does not want a spirit of fair competition. What would the president do if the KMT loses? This is very dangerous, and the public must be aware and pay close attention as events unfold, as well as make the international community aware [of what is happening]. This would make the KMT feel actual pressure should it lose, knowing that it cannot do anything rash with all the attention focused on it.

LT: Can you be more specific?

Peng: What we are most afraid of is that should the DPP win the presidential election, the KMT could use the four-month window to enact irreparable things, such as signing treaties with China. If the DPP could win enough seats in the legislature, then it could at least counterbalance such a move. But what if it doesn’t?

Aside from that, during those four months, Ma is still the president. Would the KMT do more radical things? Or maybe violent things and then find a reason to declare martial law and refuse to hand over power?

A lot of people are saying these things and are fearful at heart. I don’t like to say it, but it’s not entirely impossible. Some are even worried that the KMT would not wait for all the ballots to be counted and take action when it sees things going bad for the KMT.

In my opinion, the KMT is capable of anything.

LT: In its rebuttal, the KMT is sure to respond that it’s a democratic era and Ma isn’t that kind of person. Do you still maintain your point of view in light of this response?

Peng: Even if Ma himself said he isn’t that kind of person, I wouldn’t believe him. Before such an event happens, of course he would say he isn’t that kind of person. But should such an event really happen, he would say that he didn’t do it. The current state of Taiwan’s legal system is the reason I believe that he is capable of doing many things behind the scene. Ma has always said he doesn’t interfere in the judiciary system, but does anyone believe it? I don’t believe that the abnormal situation now has nothing to do with him.

Furthermore, take the combined legislative and presidential elections as an example. The merger is very much forced, and isn’t something a democratic country would do. But he has done it. If his intention was to avoid wasting social resources, [the combined polls] could have been adopted for the next round of elections. Why now? If it has to be started this election, why didn’t Ma start planning for it three years ago when he was first sworn in? It should have been done before the “game” had started.

In my opinion, I think it’s because the KMT’s electoral prospects aren’t looking so good, prompting it to change the rules when the game has started, using everything in its power to give itself an unfair advantage. How can one establish trust with a society like this?

What I want to stress is that if you want change, then do so openly, and early. It’s like the Selective Goods and Services Sales Tax Act (特種貨物及勞務稅條例). It should have been passed three years ago, why leave it until now? What was the government doing these three years? That’s why I say that the KMT doesn’t care about sovereignty or public welfare. It’s only concerned about how to guarantee Ma’s re-election. This is only an example. More examples might crop up before the actual vote.

LT: Has President Ma, since being sworn into office, ever communicated with you or other former presidential national advisers? Has he made any effort to promote harmony between the pan-green and pan-blue camps?

Peng: Never.