Opinions appear to be divided over whether former People First Party (PFP) legislator Lin Cheng-er’s (林正二) conviction for vote-buying in 2007 should apply to his previous term as legislator or include his current term.
The Supreme Court on July 11 upheld the Taiwan High Court’s ruling during a second retrial that Lin was guilty of vote-buying when he instructed his aides to invite all Aboriginal voters to a free dinner during his 2007 campaign for a seat on the Seventh Legislature. Lin was sentenced to 20 months in prison and deprived of his civil rights for one-and-a-half years.
The Supreme Court added that the sentence cannot be suspended.
In accordance with Article 117 of the Public Officials Election and Recall Law (公職人員選舉罷免法), Lin should have had his office or powers suspended during the retrial held in May last year, and every vote he had cast during that time should be declared invalid.
Article 117 states that if an elected official is convicted of vote-buying and the sentence is not suspended, the official should have their office or powers suspended on the date of trial and prior to the final verdict to prevent the defendant from using their power to try to influence the judicial process or drag out the legal battle.
The controversy lies in that Lin was convicted of vote-buying during his campaign for the Seventh Legislature, but he was still able to run for the Eighth Legislature and was re-elected. That gave rise to the question of whether the sentence should only apply to the previous legislative term for which he faced prosecution, or whether it should be expanded to cover his current term in the Eighth Legislature.
Huang Li-hsin (黃麗馨), director of the Ministry of the Interior’s Department of Civil Affairs, said that the ministry does not comment on individual cases. However, he added that criminal conduct should be limited to the term of service for which the charge had been brought to court.
Central Election Commission Vice Chairman Liu Yi-chou (劉義周) said that if a legislator was accused of vote-buying during their term, but the final verdict was only delivered after they had successfully run for another term, the verdict should not be limited to the term in which the charges were brought against the defendant.
However, Liu added that the commission was tasked only with election process and affairs, and the ministry would better explain the specifics.
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Wu Yi-chen (吳宜臻) said that if Article 117 was written to prevent elected officials from using their positions to interfere with the judicial process, the outcome of the judicial procedure should not be limited to the term in which they were prosecuted.
There is no clear definition in the said article that states the result of judicial process should be limited to “the particular term of election one held when prosecuted,” Wu said.
If there are doubts about the law, an amendment should be made and the ministry should be tasked with fixing the problem, Wu said.
Other experts on the functions of the legislature said that Article 117 only states that legislators are forbidden from voting during legislative sessions, but are still entitled to their wages, since they have only been suspended from exercising their power, but still retain their position as legislators.
The controversy over the Lin case has also drawn attention to similar cases, such as Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Liao Cheng-ching (廖正井), who had also been accused of vote-buying during his campaign for the Seventh Legislature.
Officials have said that Liao’s powers were not suspended immediately after he was found guilty in 2009 because the courts did not necessarily mail the verdict to the individual’s office or because there was a time lapse in the mailing of the verdict.
Wu said Huang’s comments were only an excuse for administrative inaction.
Lin’s suspension could also cause the PFP caucus in the Legislative Yuan to disband due to a lack of members.
PFP spokesman Thomas Lee (李桐豪) said the issue was still under discussion and that the party would consider forming a political coalition if necessary.