An Election without Issues
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
January 3, 2008
Are the legislative elections important? Of course they are! Because the legislature formed as a result of this election will be making major policy and budget decisions for the next four years. Due to changes in the election system, this year's legislative elections are particularly important. The number of legislators has been halved. Overnight, the influence each legislator has over policy will be doubled. Whether the deadlock that has prevailed in the legislature over the past eight years can be broken will be determined by this election.
Such an important election. Yet when most people are asked how they will vote, say: "I don't know." Either that, or they answer: "I know but I don't care." Why don't they know? Why don't they care? Because they can't be bothered to know. Because they can't be bothered to care. According to most polls, the Legislative Yuan has become synonymous with political evil. Unfortunately, the majority of voters don't care. Their indifference means the quality of the legislature will never improve. It may even go from bad to worse. Unfortunately, legislators themselves do not understand their own power and responsibilities. This means the voters' expectation that the legislature is dysfunctional will remain a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The upcoming legislative elections are so important. Yet the voters are so colossally indifferent. The candidates have been marginalized by the outgoing president and the ruling and opposition party's presidential candidates. No mention is made of the legislative elections. Naturally it has been marginalized. Candidates for the legislature actively or passively rely on the so-called "princes" to endorse their candidacy and increase their exposure. In particular they rely on Chen Shui-bian to stump for them. As a result, all we see in the election arena, from north to south, is Chen Shui-bian denouncing the United States and the two Chiangs. The candidates for the legislature are supposed to be the stars of the show. What have they said? What do they want to say? Nobody cares. Nobody asks.
Among the hundreds of candidates, only smaller party candidates are willing to talk about the issues. Standing in the winter cold, they talk about protecting the environment. Their criticisms are harsh. "If you don't care about environmental protection, don't bother telling us how much you love Taiwan!" But no one listens to them. This election has been about pointless irrelevancies such as "Joining the UN" or "Rejoining the UN." About the single stage vs. two stage balloting procedures. About whether to demolish the plaque over the ceremonial gateway to the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial. About whether to "imprison" the bronze statue of Chiang Kai-shek by surrounding it with iron bars. Night and day controversies rage. The spotlight remains on the president, on the secretary general of the Ministry of Education, on the chief of the Government Information Office, on the hierarchy of the Central Election Committee. Even UMC Honorary Chairman Tsao Hsing-chen's "Cross-Straits Peace Act" has become the object of Chen Shui-bian's attacks, turning Tsao into one of the major players. All that is missing is the candidates for the legislature.
When you think it about, it's really rather sad. If you look at the legislative elections over the past 20 years, no matter how hysterical or tense the political atmosphere became, the candidates always paid some attention to the issues. When Shih Ming-teh was DPP Chairman, the withdrawal of troops from Kinmen and Matsu was a serious election issue. When Hsu Hsin-liang was DPP Chairman, he played the welfare for senior citizens card, forcing KMT Chairman Lee Teng-hui to follow suit. Now it has has become a policy the nation must implement on an annual basis. When Lin Yi-hsiung was DPP Chairman, he promoted his referendum to halt construction on Nuclear Plant No. 4. The subsequent halting and resuming of construction on Nuclear Plant No. 4 constituted an international fiasco. But it was unquestionably a serious issue.
Leave Nuclear Plant No. 4 aside for the moment. Environmental issues have been seriously marginalized this year. The Yunlin No. 8 Cracking Plant, the Meinung Reservoir, the Su Hua Highway, and the Snow Mountain Tunnel were important issues in previous legislative and presidential elections. Candidates for the legislature dared not treat these issues lightly. Even presidential candidates treated these issues as matters of national importance. Today however, the candidates never speak of these issues. Mention of them in print, in election pamphlets is even more rare.
The DPP and KMT have been promoting utterly pointless and irrelevant plebiscites on UN membership. The Kaohsiung Teachers Association meanwhile, has proposed a modest but meaningful plebiscite on Small Class Teaching and Learning. But time is short. Their petition has the necessary number of signatures. It truly is a " bottom-up" plebiscite. But it must take a back sea to the "Join the UN" and "Rejoin the UN" plebiscites being held in conjunction with the presidential election. Will it be given the attention it deserves? Take a wild guess. Wouldn't you think legislators from Kaohsiung would show some concern for a plebiscite Kaohsiung citizens petitioned for on their own initiative? Yet legislators willing to voice concern for parents and teachers can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Hardly anyone gives a damn.
If legislative candidates don't talk about public welfare, what do they talk about? They talk about their rivals' dirty laundry and health problems. If it isn't extramarital affairs, then it's who's supporting a mistress. Or who is addicted to drugs or popping ecstasy. Who had a stroke or whose mind is going. Whether their vicious rumors are true or false, nobody cares. To expect voters to feel concern, let alone enthusiasm for legislative elections dominated by smear campaigns and rumor mongering is no easy matter.
No kidding. The legislative elections really are important. The new legislature will have only 113 members. These legislators will decide how to spend one trillion dollars every year. No matter who is elected president in 2008, this Legislative Yuan will approve Control Yuan members and Grand Justices nominated by the president. It will pass major legislation submitted by the Executive Yuan. The future direction of the Republic of China will be determined largely by the Legislative Yuan. If the legislative elections lose focus, how can we establish a functioning parliament? Voters are ignorant. Political stars are insensible. Can ruling and opposition legislative candidates shoulder a little responsibility? Can they make a little effort? Can they seize the opportunity during these last few days to get back to the issues?