A proposal by the Taiwan Joint Irrigation Association (TJIA) president to have presidents and commissioners of irrigation associations directly appointed by the government rather than elected from among representatives has sparked accusations of being anti-democratic.The irrigation associations (and fisheries and farmers associations and similar) are important sources of local patronage for construction and other industries, and thus, centers of local political struggles. From the national point of view, they are key associations for local agriculture, an important locus of opposition to the Ma Administration's ECFA and China trade moves.
Yang Ming-feng (楊明風) said the direct appointments would help curb rampant bribery and violence surrounding the votes.
Yang, who doubles as president of Chia Nan Irrigation Association, submitted the proposal during a members’ convention of the TJIA earlier this month, in which he proposed an amendment to the Irrigation Association Organization General Principles (農田水利會組織通則) to replace the current system for selecting association presidents and commissioners with direct appointment by the government.
Before 1994, members of irrigation associations were put in charge of selecting their representatives, while the latter took charge of electing association presidents, the proposal said.
However, such an election system led to vote-buying and violence, forcing the legislature to amend the principles.
The last election for the associations was in 2010. At that time the DPP held just one seat but increased to four seats after the election, perhaps a sign of dissatisfaction with the Ma Administration (but perhaps also just the result of temporary local factors). The death grip of the KMT on local politics, an important source of its power, is shown right there -- prior to that election the KMT held all but two of the irrigation association directorships.
The associations are government funded via the COA (2.3 billion NT in 2010), and the Ma Administration wants them under the thumb of its appointees. The KMT's ability to bring the institutions of society under its control is a key factor in its continuing dominance of the island's political life. If the Ma Administration is able to put its own people in those posts, its ability to punish and reward will be greatly magnified, especially in areas where there is widespread opposition to its policies.
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