Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Are Politicians willing to allow Balloting Technicalities stop the Election?

Are Politicians willing to allow Balloting Technicalities stop the Election?
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
December 19, 2007

It is now less than one month away from the legislative elections, yet the dispute over balloting procedures remains unresolved. Central Election Committee General Secretary Teng Tien-yu, under questioning by legislators, conceded that any ballots cast at a polling station using a two-stage balloting procedure would still be valid. But 24 hours later, the ruling Democratic Progressive Party blasted Teng's statement as "merely his personal opinon ... he spoke out of turn." The ruling DPP repeated its threat to press criminal charges against any election official who dared implement the two-stage balloting procedure. It was then that Teng Tien-yu solemnly intoned: The dispute over balloting procedures must not be permitted to deprive citizens of their right to vote! Teng's statement should make politicians who ignore the interests of the nation and society blush with shame.

The dispute over the balloting procedure for the plebiscite/referendum has dragged on for half a year. Each side has had time to make the case for its own procedure, and cite its advantages over its opponent's. The greatest concern now is whether a balloting procedure technicality will prevent a successful election, or worse, deprive citizens of their right to vote.

Regrettably, both central and local governments, both Blue and Green camps, have never considered how to resolve such disputes. Instead, they only want to escalate the controversy. Their mutual denunciations and mutual intimidation are a vicious circle. They have enveloped the legislative election in a cloud of haze. Many people wonder whether the election can actually be held. Even assuming the voting process can be successfully completed, what about the vote counting process? Even assuming the vote counting process can be successfully completed, what about the announcement of the vote counting process?

We raise these questions not to frighten people. These are not groundless fears. An election on Taiwan has virtually become two separate elections. Blue counties are holding one election. Green counties are holding another election. Blue counties and Green counties have their own Blue and Green supporters. Add a tense election atmosphere, and who can be sure that Blue and Green camp supporters won't insist on having their own way at polling stations implementing either a two-stage balloting process or single-stage balloting process? Who can be sure they won't make trouble after being forcibly removed? Who can be sure any trouble won't be blown out of proportion by live media coverage and affect the entire island? With 73 electoral districts and 10,000 polling stations, it would take only a few incidents to start an island-wide conflagration. Will it still be possible to keep the polling stations open after that?

Once the ballots are cast, they must be counted. Because Chen's plebiscite/referendum has been illegally "package-dealed" with the legislative election, voters will cast up to four ballots. Therefore four ballot boxes must be counted. According to Central Election Committee estimates, the counting process will take two to three hours. What sort of incidents might take place in the interim? If they do, will the counting process continue? If not, will the ballot boxes be sealed and delivered straight to the Central Election Committee? Will that even be possible?

It gets worse. The Executive Yuan has alleged repeatedly that the two stage balloting process is "invalid." But according to what law? This has become a question in everyones' mind. According to the Civil Service Election and Recall Law, regardless of whether the election is considered valid or invalid, the Central Election Committee must announce the results. Any challenges to the results must be made after the the results have been announced. Four years ago the Blue camp protested the 319 Shooting Incident. They held a week long vigil in front of the Presidential Palace to prevent the CEC from announcing the results. But from a legal standpoint, if the CEC doesn't announce the results, how can one file a legal challenge? Four years later the Democratic Progressive Party is in office. Everyone in the ruling DPP, including Chen Shui-bian, repeatedly alleges that the two-stage balloting procedure is invalid. But according to what law? No one knows. The Central Election Committee's rulings on electoral matters can only be described as "Chen's word is law." What could be simpler than governing in accordance with the letter of the law? How could something so simple become a matter of public controversy? What will happen if the Central Election Committee really does decide not to announce the election results?

Both the Blue and Green camps will have supervisory personnel at 10,000 polling stations. Regardless of whether the Central Election Committee announces the election results, or posts the returns on the Internet, or delays announcing the results, these Blue and Green camp supervisory personnel will report the results of each polling station back to their campaign headquarters. The possibility remains that some candidates will prematurely declare that they won. When the time comes, election controversies will invariably erupt. No candidate can tolerate a rival illegally and prematurely declaring victory. An illegal announcement will lead to prosecution by the Central Election Committee for election law violations. Via the Central Election Committee, the Executive Yuan will determine whether the election results are valid or invalid.

The Democratic Progressive Party was once out of power. Now it is in power. All along the way, the DPP has prided itself on being a champion of democracy and progress. Is the DPP really willing to sit by as Taiwan's democracy descends to this? Is the DPP really willing to deprive citizens of their right to vote over a purely technical issue involving balloting procedure? Is the DPP really willing to precipiate chaos? The Central Election Committee is the primary agency responsible for overseeing election affairs. In the event a dispute arises with local authorities, it is obligated to do everything in its power to resolve such disputes. So why is it provoking disputes and creating social polarization?

It is now less than one month away from from the legislative elections. Whether Blue or Green, whether candidate or gofer, all politicians must put the people first, must put Taiwan's democracy first. Let them treasure this past half century and the hard-won achievements of our forbears. Do not allow Taiwan's democracy to regress. Do not allow society to descend into chaos and people to be overwhelmed by fear. Find solutions. Assume responsibility. Take concrete action. Find a way out of the balloting procedure controversy!

中國時報  2007.12.19










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