Sunday, December 24, 2006

Like a Song Refrain: Vote-Buying in Kaohsiung

Today the Taipei Times hosted an call from several local pro-Taiwan academic societies for more aggressive handling of vote buying cases...after noting the inadequacy of local investigative efforts:

To begin with, the fact that police did not catch up with Ku until several days later in such a major case makes it clear that too little effort was put into the investigation process.

Further, apart from Tsai Neng-hsiang (蔡能祥), nicknamed Hei Song (黑松), there was allegedly another middle-aged woman passing out money on the bus. It is still unclear who she was.

Also, when Ku turned himself in, he said the money was provided by a Yang Ching-te (楊慶德). Yang, however, departed for China on the day of Ku's arrest. Why couldn't prosecutors and investigators get hold of this information in advance?

Su Wan-chi (蘇萬基), the executive of the KMT mayoral candidate's campaign team, admitted that he had asked Yang, who also is from Yunlin, to help mobilize support for the candidate. But did Su give Yang NT$60,000 to pay voters to participate in rallies? If he did not, then where did the money come from?

Lin Ping-feng (林平峰), chairman of the Yunlin Association, admitted to prosecutors that the association rented 10 buses for Huang's election-eve rally, but that it did not include the two buses Yang had organized for his mobilization activities.

However, Su, a former chairman of the Yunlin Association, had already admitted that he asked Yang to mobilize supporters for the rally, and he managed to fax the map of the rally to Ku.

Why did the incumbent and former chairmen contradict each other? Is there any connection between the Yunlin Association and Ku's NT$60,000 ?

Furthermore, and most importantly, why would the city councilor candidate be involved? The electoral number of both candidates surnamed Huang was No. 1. If the vote buying occurred, what is the connection between the two Huangs?

Is there some one manipulating this complex case from behind the scene?

If Chen Chu really made up the case as Huang's camp claimed, how did her camp collude with Yang, Ku, Tsai and the middle-aged woman on the bus to set up a secret relationship that was so systematic and sophisticated?

This is an old problem, despite all the headlines: Vote buying probe nets more. Suspect turns himself in. ESWN comments and has stories in translation. Those are recent headlines about the Kaohsiung mayoral election. But as far back as you go, the headlines look the 2001...

Kaohsiung prosecutors and police officers on Saturday arrested two vote captains for People First Party legislative candidate Chung Shao-ho on vote-buying charges.

Investigators interrogated more than 20 vote captains and voters who had accepted gifts from Chung's campaign offices in Fengshan city, Tashe township, Taliao township and Meinung township, all in Kaohsiung County.

Prosecutors said that among the suspects, most of the vote captains have admitted that they had tried to help Chung's campaign by offering to buy votes, while most voters said that they had accepted gifts from Chung's campaign headquarters.

And of course, there was Chu An-hsiung, who bought the 2003 Kaohsiung city council speaker election:

The scandal that has erupted around the Kaohsiung Speaker vote is almost wearily familiar as part of Taiwan's corrupt local politics as usual. What makes it remarkable is the size of the corruption, the determination of the local prosecutors to get to the bottom of the case and the volume of evidence that is amassing from those who were involved.

It is also interesting because its chief protagonist is almost a textbook example of the wheeler-dealer politician-businessman who dominate Taiwan's political life, because the case itself shows the effort of the major parties to try and distance themselves from what are euphemistically known as "traditional political practices" and a rising anger on the part of the public at such shenanigans that might express itself in a disillusionment with democracy - the development of which in the past decade is, in many eyes, Taiwan's chief claim on the world's respect.

Chu An-hsiung's career is typical of his class. He started off as an accountant in the Formosa Plastics Group. He entered politics in 1973, when the then governing Kuomintang (KMT) was still largely composed of exiles from mainland China but local elections were being opened up for ambitious Taiwanese willing to toe the party line. Chu won a set on the Kaohsiung City Council. After two terms there he won a seat on the now defunct Taiwan Provincial Assembly from where he was elected by the assembly to the Control Yuan, Taiwan's supreme government watchdog body. Meanwhile his wife used the family's clout in Kaohsiung to get herself elected as a legislator. From the mid-1980s until the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s, the Chus used their political influence along with their business connections to build their An Feng Group into Taiwan's third-largest steelmaker.

And from the 2000 presidential election, came this review of vote buying practices -- and an illustration of how the KMT maintains its grip on the local level:

It also offers $500,000 for information leading to the conviction of vote buyers. But Mr. Huang conceded that convictions were rare, in part because many of the recipients of gifts regard the practice as customary.

"In traditional Chinese culture, people view gifts as a gesture of respect for their act of voting," said Bau Tzong-ho, a professor of political science at National Taiwan University.

An afternoon in Chin Jin illustrates why vote buying is so deeply rooted. Although the nearby port city of Kaohsiung is a stronghold of the Democratic Progressive Party, Chin Jin votes reliably for the Nationalist Party, local officials said, because its fishermen depend on the state for access to fishing grounds.

"This whole district has been bought and paid for the KMT," said Chuang Ming-tsong, 53, a restaurant owner and opposition supporter, using the initials for the party's Chinese name, Kuomintang.

The article also notes that the tradition of gambling on Taiwan's elections is a form of covert vote buying:

Even the opposition parties say the Nationalists will be careful about handing over cash, for fear of getting caught. But they say the party has developed more sophisticated strategies. The latest craze in Kaohsiung and other cities is gambling parlors, which opposition officials contend are linked to the governing Nationalist Party. People place bets on the candidate they believe is favored by the owner, and if that candidate wins, they receive a large payout.

Frank Hsieh, the mayor of Kaohsiung and a Democratic Progressive, says the system is a disguised form of vote buying and has asked the local police to investigate.

The article also notes the KMT practice of paying "election monitors" who "monitor" outside local election offices...and constitute votes for the KMT.

If you think things are bad, just glance at how it used to the 1990s Taiwan was the focus of a Clean Election Campaign that made fantastic progress:

Liu Ren-Jou, a worker with Initiatives of Change (then MRA) described what happened: ‘In 1991, Taiwan conducted its first general elections for members of the National Assembly. Vote-buying was rampant. The atmosphere was such that the election came under great criticism from the public. [The National Assembly is the constitutional organ and has no legislative power. That resides with the National Legislature or Parliament.]

‘Towards the end of 1992, when the first complete electoral reform for legislatures was scheduled, one could predict that the main political power would move to Parliament. One day in May I was having lunch with two members of the business community who were very worried that the mood for vote-buying would favour only ambitious politicians, and enable financial groups to enter Parliament in great numbers, thereby worsening future politics. Business opportunities in Taiwan would become even more unfair. Fair competition and management and the development of the economy would certainly regress, the general environment would worsen and very soon Taiwan would lose hope. ‘The next day during a time of reflection, I had a strong inner thought to initiate a clean election campaign.


The campaign was certainly one factor in the swing of public opinion against vote-buying. It also helps explain the broad public support for then Justice Minister Ma Ying-Jeou’s crackdown on corrupt practices in the city and county elections of March 1994. Twenty-three were arrested—including a Speaker, a Deputy Speaker and nine councillors from city or county authorities—on charges of buying votes or accepting bribes. They were found guilty and The China Post reported that Ma’s move had been ‘like an earthquake measuring more than six on the Richter Scale, rocking not only the DPP but also the Kuomintang’. Ma told me that the Clean Election Campaign had a positive effect on his crackdown campaign. The two campaigns had interacted with each other.

Following the arrests, the regional chairman of the KMT resigned. A senior official of the KMT pointed out that if Ma continued his relentless attack on corruption the grassroots structure of the KMT could collapse. A group of KMT legislators warned Ma that if that happened he would be held responsible. Ma responded by telling the Legislature that anyone believed guilty of vote-buying would be prosecuted, regardless of his background and political affiliation. The fight against corruption was not for personal show but an ongoing national policy. Nevertheless political pressure from within the ruling KMT on the President led to Ma’s eventual departure from the Ministry of Justice. But he told me, ‘After three years of crackdown as the minister I was able to prosecute more than 5,000 government officials and 7,500 people involved in vote-buying. The conviction rate when I left the Ministry (and most cases were still pending) was 40 per cent.’


In the recent past, 10 per cent of the members of the Legislature, around 20 members, had backgrounds associated with gangsters, he told me in an interview. In the present Legislature following the December 2001 elections, however, only one member was considered to have a ‘mafia’ background. The London-based Financial Times said that these elections were the cleanest in the history of Taiwan. The China Post conducted a poll two days after the election and found that 70.1 per cent of those questioned considered that vote-buying had been greatly reduced, and were satisfied that the election was fair.

In case you think this is a KMT problem, a scholar at the Academia Sinica pointed out several years ago:

To monopolize political power over a long period of time, the KMT turned a blind eye to vote-buying, allowing it to become an insidious but established political practice. In the past, KMT leaders had no intention of eliminating the practice, which endangered the nation's democratic development. They even relied on "black gold" to prolong their grip on power. A handful of DPP politicians keep "nominal" party members (人頭黨員) to openly engage in vote-buying.

In sum, it's vital to see vote-buying as a structural issue of Taiwan's electoral politics, especially at the local level. Bruce Jacobs notes in an excellent review of the three in one elections last year:

My best understanding of these lower-level elections comes from regular research in "Mazu" Township (the name "Mazu" is a pseudonym), a rural area in southern Taiwan where I first lived 35 years ago. Despite Chen Shui-bian winning about half of the Mazu vote in 2000 and 63 percent in 2004, the DPP had developed quite slowly and only made progress when it aligned to a major county faction in 2001. Even then, it remains unclear whether the DPP or the faction deserves credit for various achievements.

These lower-level elections, while having a partisan overlay, remain essentially nonpartisan. Thus, in both 2002 and in the recent elections, the KMT nominee for township executive received substantial and important support from key DPP leaders be cause he had proved competent and refused to buy votes. In contrast, the DPP nominee for township executive in 2005 had run as a nonpartisan in the 2002 county assembly election, when he bought substantial numbers of votes. In addition, he did not help President Chen Shui-bian's 2004 bid for re-election despite promises to do so. And, as a member of the county assembly, he had not helped the county executive.

In the words of one local DPP leader, the DPP nominee belonged to the "watermelon faction," the faction which sought the largest slice for themselves. In addition, the DPP nominee had clear organized-crime connections, though he personally had not been convicted of any crime.

How did this man obtain the DPP nomination for township executive? According to DPP rules, if only one DPP member of two years standing runs for an office, he or she gains the nomination automatically. Clearly this rule requires revision as it tied the hands of local party leaders and nominated a man who clearly did not meet the DPP's vote-buying regulations.

Although, in 2002, the KMT nominee for township executive won easily with substantial informal DPP support and despite his opponent's vote-buying, this time he lost because the DPP nominee bought votes comprehensively. In addition to spending NT$1,000 (US$30) to buy all of the township's votes, on election eve the DPP nominee also spent NT$2,000 and NT$3,000 in selected locations. The KMT candidate lost with 46.41 of the vote despite open support from many key local DPP leaders.

The necessity of allying with powerful local factions and clans in order to achieve local success means that pernicious behavior will remain an key component of Taiwan's electoral practices for many years to come...

In Chiayi County, which Chen Shui-bian won with about 50 percent of the vote in 2000 and over 62 percent in 2004, the DPP only won the county executiveship and a majority of assembly seats after an alliance between the DPP and the Lin Faction--a powerful, traditional electoral machine--in late 2001. Even today it remains unclear whether the DPP or the Lin Faction dominates this alliance.

Party identification also remains weak even among politicians. Of the 15 candidates for county executive and the assembly in 2001 in Chiayi County, fully two-thirds had changed party affiliation within the previous two years. And since then some have again changed party. This is a weakness that the DPP must overcome before it can hope to run Taiwan effectively.

The KMT engages in more vote buying precisely because it is a power at the local level, and money is the lubricant of its local links to organized crime, powerful local families, and local businessmen. Vote buying will cease to be a problem only when Taiwan's local level undergoes extensive change.

No comments: