Independent Legislator Fu Kun-chi (傅崐萁) is to start his prison term for stock manipulation today, but he has not lost his citizen’s rights and therefore is able to keep his post, a situation that has aroused much controversy.
Directly elected officials and representatives at a central government level are allowed to retain their posts and salaries during imprisonment, and they can resume their official duties upon their release, due to the incomplete Civil Servants Election and Recall Act (公職人員選舉罷免法).
However, locally elected officials and representatives convicted and sentenced to prison lose their posts in accordance with Article 79 of the Local Government Act (地方制度法).
The two laws were made and amended by the Legislative Yuan, which raises the question of whether legislators drafted the bills to benefit themselves.
There are some other questionable laws that appear to unduly benefit legislators.
First, the legislation governing the filling of vacant posts appears unfair. Take for example a vote-buying case in 2005. Several locally elected representatives were relieved of their posts after being found guilty in accordance with Article 74 of the Civil Servants Election and Recall Act. The vacancies were filled by the losing candidates who had won the next-highest numbers of votes.
However, if a legislator is removed from their post for vote-buying, the vacancy cannot be filled by the losing candidate with the next highest number of votes; a by-election is required.
The legislature’s political calculation is simple: If a lawmaker being dismissed yields the seat to the strongest political rival in a “single electoral district,” it would make it more difficult to regain the seat in the next legislative election, since the probability of family members of dismissed lawmakers winning by-elections has been calculated to be as high as 83 percent.
Second, the legislation governing the holding of by-elections is unfair. As Article 81 of the Local Government Act states, when a local representative is dismissed, a by-election shall not be held if the term remaining is more than two years.
Yet Article 73 of the Civil Servants Election and Recall Act states that when a regional legislator is dismissed, a by-election shall not be held if the term remaining is more than one year.
Since a legislator can manipulate the timing of a by-election according to the above law, all they have to do is wait until their remaining period in office is one-year or less and they can position a family member to win the by-election, who would then be able to control the political resources for another year.
Third, the legislation governing vote-buying investigations is unfair. Former minister of justice Chen Ding-nan (陳定南) proposed a list of vote-buying crimes in 2001, strictly defining any gift of NT$30 or more as a bribe. His crackdown on vote-buying was a success.
Unfortunately, on the eve of the election of the seventh legislative session in 2008, the Ministry of Justice was pressured by the sixth legislative session to amend the list by adding a five-point clause that excludes certain conditions from being considered as vote-buying.
The first point emphasizes that when lawmakers take part in folk celebrations, religious activities, weddings, funerals and festivities, it does not constitute a crime if they offer cash gifts or other presents in line with social etiquette. This makes it hard to convict a lawmaker of vote-buying.
No wonder the number of convictions has fallen since the election of the seventh legislature.
Wang Chou-ming is director of the Anti-Bribery Research Office and convener of the Taichung Election Commission’s Panel of Supervision.
Translated by Eddy Chang
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