Monday, December 01, 2008

Glimpses of local Taiwan politics

With all the news about Big Government -- the cabinet reshuffle slated for next year, the Cross-Strait agreements slated to pass without real legislative oversight -- there's still plenty of stuff going on with Little Government that shows how KMT control of local faction networks and local agriculture and irrigation cooperatives translates into local political dominance.

According to a CNA report from a couple of days ago, the election of KMT legislator Chang Sho-wen from Yunlin was invalidated for vote-buying:

The Yunlin District Court said in its ruling that Chang Sho-wen was believed to be aware and have taken part in a well-planned and well-organized vote-buying scheme masterminded by his father Chang Hui-yuan, president of an influential local irrigation association.

Chang Hui-yuan was previously convicted of having colluded with the irrigation association's staff members and grassroots borough chiefs in the county to canvass votes for Chang Sho-wen by offering cash bribes to voters.

As the election bribery case involved many people and a large sum of money and covered a wide range of areas, including the county's major cities and townships, the court ruling said Chang Sho-wen was unlikely to be unaware of such activities as he claimed during the trial.

The verdict further said most of the defendants in the 14 Chang-related election bribery cases were convicted in the first trials.

Chang Hui-yuan himself was sentenced to five years and eight months in prison after being found guilty of election bribery. He has appealed the decision to the Taiwan High Court.

With so many people convicted in the case, the court contended that it was simply implausible that Chang Sho-wen, as a candidate, did not have any knowledge of such illegal practices.

Take a good look at how the apparatus of control is established. The irrigation cooperative with its lucrative construction work (even as far back as the 1980s more was being spent on irrigation and agricultural coop chief elections than on US senate elections) and other funding opportunities is the basis for a wide ranging vote buying scheme conducted by local borough chiefs, by which I believe the CNA means the neighborhood captains, the lin/li zhang. The KMT's long grip on the government means that 90% of the neighborhood captains are KMT, as are the agricultural and irrigation coop heads. These individuals, especially in rural areas, have excellent knowledge of local family and faction alignments and individual political preferences, and can easily apply vote buying cash where it is needed. Said cash coming from central government funds spun out to local governments and local institutions for construction, and somehow siphoned off. Observe also that this network extends across a wide geographical area; it's not a small operation, and it operates in an area conventionally considered 'Green'.

In sum, the long years of KMT party-state dominance mean that all across Taiwan, the local KMT party organization is essentially the local government.

Until the DPP spends the time and effort to put together a grass-roots party machine that contains sophisticated databases on local voters and voting patterns, coupled with an extensive and trained volunteer network, the party will remain little more than a cabal of lawyers intent on capturing the presidency.

Oh, and the conviction? It will have little practical effect since the appeals process is so drawn-out:

If, however, the court's final ruling is not handed down until early 2011, with less than a year left in Chang Sho-wen's four-year term, the seat would then be left vacant until the next legislative elections are held in late 2011 or early 2012.

A vote buying conviction will also mean little because (1) voters habitually send convicted vote buyers back to office and (2) even if Chang cannot run again, the faction will simply put another family member in his place for the next election.

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