Worries over farming, fishing votes

By Chung Li-hua and Stacy Hsu  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

Mon, Nov 12, 2012 - Page 3

Academics yesterday expressed concerns over possible “black-box” operations ahead of the next elections for the general managers of farming and fishermen’s associations which are scheduled for March next year.

Beginning today through Friday, those hoping to be elected to head the nation’s 300 farming associations will be able to register their candidacies, while the registration period for those aiming for the same position in the country’s 38 fishermen’s associations can register between Nov. 26 and Nov. 30.

The general manager elections for farming and fishermen’s associations are scheduled to take place on March 2 and March 16 next year respectively

The quadrennial elections are seen by most political parties — and those who are politically oriented — as a vital prelude to the 2014 seven-in-one elections, which are to be held for all directly-elected local government positions, and even to the 2016 presidential election.

The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) has tended to regard these associations as ideal places to cultivate local vote brokers, as well as to generate momentum ahead of major elections.

According to relevant regulations, a farming or fishermen’s association shall have one general manager, whose appointment must be made by the approval of at least half of the total board of directors. A roster of members’ representatives — elected by members — is charged with electing the board directors.

To meet the candidacy requirements for the general manager of such an association, one must pass a series of procedures set down by the Council of Agriculture that include an evaluation on the candidate’s credentials and an interview.

According to sources familiar with local maneuvering, who spoke on condition of anonymity, the selection procedures for farming association’s general managers often see fierce competition between different local factions as the positions offer access the control of vast resources and offer connections to key industry figures.

“Oftentimes, people from various factions, in an attempt to secure candidacies for appointments, are seen lobbying their way from local departments to central government, or from the legislature to the council,” the source said, adding that though the selection processes may appear to have been systematized, there is still room for maneuvering since the required interviews takes up as much as 30 percent of a candidate’s total evaluation score.

The source said that on the surface the board directors might seem to be in charge of the general manager elections, but in fact the former only serves as a de facto piece in a political board game being played by the latter.

In an effort to increase their chances of success, the source said general manager candidates would first seek to win the support of at least half of the members’ representatives, which obliquely ensures that a majority of elected board directors would be in their favor in the vote using the block voting system for their appointments.

The Democratic Progressive Party changed the voting system in a bid to dismantle a system which lead to longstanding monopolies to a system that halved the number of votes given to an elector, the source said. That decision was reversed after the KMT regained power in 2008.

“Now that the general manager position has become somewhat a lifelong job, some serving heads are able to appoint their own successors,” the source said, calling for the indirect elections to be transformed into direct elections by farmers.

Former National Taiwan University College of Agriculture dean Yang Ping-shih (楊平世) said that farming associations should have refrained from political maneuvering, but instead they tended to prize candidate’s connections with local factions above their competences during the selection processes.

Department of Farmers’ Services director Tsao Shao-hui (曹紹徽) said the selection process is adequate, adding that incumbent general managers who have performanced well during their terms would automatically qualify as candidates without interview without interview, adding that direct elections were not suitable for a professional administrative position.