The postponement of the results of a government-sponsored online poll to find the nation’s top 100 religious scenic sites that was supposed to be released on Tuesday has prompted criticism that the government is worrying that the results would make a joke of Taiwan in the international community.
The online poll, hosted by the Ministry of the Interior, began in August in the hope of picking the top 100 religion-related scenic sites in an attempt to boost religious tourism in Taiwan.
However, the poll caused local governments to offer gift raffles to encourage members of the public to cast votes in favor of temples and religious sites located in their respective areas, while some local temples also called on their believers to cast their votes in their favor.
According to the first-phase voting list announced by the ministry at the end of last month, the religious site that garnered the most votes was the Xuankong Temple on Dazhishan (大智山) in Greater Tainan, whereas the well-known Fo Guang Shan Monastery (佛光山) in Greater Kaohsiung was ranked seventh.
The popular Chaotien Temple (朝天宮) in Yunlin’s Beigang (北港) and Greater Taichung’s Dajia Jenn Lann Temple (大甲鎮瀾宮) were ranked 12th and 15th respectively.
Tzuchi Temple in Hualien, as well as the Nungchan Temple on Dharma Drum Mountain (法鼓山) — which just received first prize in the Taiwan Architectural competition — were not named within the top 100.
Though the ministry said the delay was due to the sheer amount of votes for religious sites that were sent in, skeptics had said that the government was afraid to make public the results because they are too shocking and unexpected.
In response, the ministry said the online poll was only 30 percent of the decisionmaking process, adding that the ministry had gone over the total amount of votes twice, invalidating more than 420,000 votes out of 2 million, due to people using loopholes to give more votes to their favored sites.
Academics and experts would be making the judgement call in the second stage based on the history, culture and scenic sites around the locations, the ministry said, adding that this particular phase accounted for 70 percent of the decisionmaking process.
When asked for comment, Buddhist Master Shih Chao-hwei (釋昭慧) said that if the Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation mobilized its 4 million believers across the nation, it would undoubtedly be in first place, adding that Tzu Chi had not even made it into the list of the top 100 in the first place.
“I think even government officials are shocked at the results,” she said.
However, a number of Buddhist religious groups, including Tzu Chi and Fo Guang Shan Monastery, added that the efforts to get people to vote on the sites went against Buddhist dogma, saying local governments should just let fate decide.
Chunghwa Taoist Belief Headquarters director-general Chang Chao-heng (張肇珩), meanwhile, said the vote’s results would become a representation of Taiwan’s religious characteristics and should be approached carefully.
“We should have academics and experts visit these sites and make their recommendations on its scene, historical value and cultural characteristics instead of relying on some sort of carnival-esque voting system,” Chang said.