Ballot Flashing: An Angel's Cry for Help, or the Devil's Trill?
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
December 30, 2014
Executive Summary: We would like to offer a reminder to the ruling and opposition parties. To be meaningful the political process must be universal in its nature. They cannot cater only to their own partisan interests. They cannot blow hot or cold based on short-sighted political calculations. They cannot dance with the devil out of self-interest. They cannot portray themselves as angels only when they are the ones seeking justice. Who will believe them? To solve the ballot flashing dispute the blue and green camps must set aside their political calculations, and share responsibility for the nation's governance.
Full Text Below:
The DPP election victory in the nine in one elections was too great a surprise. The DPP soon snatched defeat from the jaws of victory during the county council and city council speaker elections. Tsai Ing-wen repeatedly issued orders requiring ballot flashing. Yet party members defected nonetheless. She blasted them, saying "Selling your votes is a blot on democracy." The DPP responded by demanding the expulsion of party members who defected. Tsai Ing-wen also harangued Eric Chu, demanding that he co-sponsor an amendment making local speaker and deputy speaker elections “open ballot” systems “just like the Legislative Yuan elections.”
Tsai Ing-wen's diatribe betrayed her confusion and panic. Legislative Yuan elections have always used “secret ballots” rather than "open ballots". Tsai Ing-wen demanded reform, then unwitting demanded the opposite of what she said she wanted. So just exactly what reform did she want? Blue camp legislators fired back. They said she served as a legislator yet was ignorant of these simple facts. Her term as a legislator was clearly a farce.
Several issues must be clarified. One. Vote buying is a fact of life in local county and city council elections. It undermines local democracy and good government. But is "ballot flashing" really the solution? Two. The DPP has long opposed KMT ballot flashing during elections. But when their own ox is being gored, they do not hesitate to invoke party disciplinary measures to ensure that DPP members flash their ballots. Are they not contradicting themselves? Three. The DPP says it wants speaker elections to use "secret ballots." But why stop there? Why change only the local council elections? Why not change the Legislative Yuan elections as well? Should this be applied to Examination Yuan and Control Yuan monitoring authority as well? Four. When confronted with the "will of the party," do party members really have no right to exercise independent judgement?
The DPP has long opposed ballot flashing. Yet It now vehemently and uncharacteristically demands ballot flashing. It even demands that party members sign "ballot flashing pledges!" No matter what the rationale, the DPP is going to find it hard to justify its flip-flop. True. Local council elections have the taint of vote buying, which undermines the DPP's dream of “total governance” in many counties and municipalities. But resorting to illegal ballot flashing to rein in their own party members merely proves green camp talk of party discipline is empty rhetoric. When the DPP opposed ballot flashing it denounced it as “selling one's soul to the devil.” Now that the DPP supports ballot flashing, it lauds ballot flashing as an "angel of mercy" in its fight against “black gold.” In fact, ballot flashing is neither an "angel's cry for help" or the "Devil's Trill". It is merely the sound of the DPP flapping its lips.
For the DPP, ballot flashing went from being "intolerable" to being the DPP's "party ethic". Why? Because the motivation for ballot flashing changed. In the past, technical ballot flashing was proof that “See, I voted the way you bribed me to” or “See, I voted the party line, as ordered.” The DPP's demand for ballot flashing is a way to force party members to toe the party line, to make them prove that "See, I voted as the party ordered me to.” Take this a step further. Weigh the rule of law against the will of the party. The bottom line is the party must amend the law. It cannot blindly praise "ballot flashing" as necessary. After all, defecting during a vote is merely a violation of party discipline. But ballot flashing is a violation of the law.
Ballot flashing and vote buying are intertwined. In fact, there is no simple solution. Any solution must be three-pronged. Consider the legislative aspect. One can amend the law to require "secret ballots". One can maintain the status quo, but add penalties to punish ballot flashing. Consider the judicial aspect. Prosecutors must heed the unified opinion of the Supreme Court or ask the Grand Justices for a constitutional interpretation. There cannot be different standards for different parties. Consider the political aspect. The ruling and opposition parties must maintain consistent discipline. They must not flip-flop based on perceived short-term advantage.
First of all, changing the "Local System Act" for speaker and deputy speaker elections to enble "open ballots" is a drastic move. Council protocol for personnel elections usually adopt " secret ballots" for good reasons. It is true that open ballots help ensure political responsibility. But they are not a panacea. They cannot prevent intervention by monied interests and criminal elements. They cannot compensate for half-hearted party discipline or a criminal justice system that is all thunder but no rain. These will all allow the drama to repeat itself. This amounts to de facto legalization of ballot flashing. It merely affords monied interests and criminal elements stronger assurances. Lest we forget, the constitution specifies secret ballots for the Legislative Yuan elections. The purpose was to ensure legislators' freedom of conscience. This transcends any “will of the party.”
Secondly, amending the Criminal Law to provide punishments for ballot flashing is more in line with the constitution and the laws and regulations pertaining to "secret ballots". If a party has trouble convincing its members to support its nominees, why must party members fall in line? Of course, if the criminal penalties for ballot flashing are too light, council members will simply ignore it, Sophisticated ballot flashing techniques make the law a dead letter, especially in the absence of independent judicial opinions. All this gets lost amidst ruling vs. opposition party squabbling. The parties merely want to have it both ways, or deliberately pull their punches. Repeated flip-flopping undermines any semblance of justice and turns the law into mere window dressing.
Lastly, we would like to offer a reminder to the ruling and opposition parties. To be meaningful the political process must be universal in its nature. They cannot cater only to their own partisan interests. They cannot blow hot or cold based on short-sighted political calculations. They cannot dance with the devil out of self-interest. They cannot portray themselves as angels only when they are the ones seeking justice. Who will believe them? To solve the ballot flashing dispute the blue and green camps must set aside their political calculations, and share responsibility for the nation's governance.
2014.12.30 02:13 am