A friend of mine who writes on various Asian political science issues asked me for my view of the December 2006 muni elections in Taiwan. Here is what I am intending to tell him, but before I do I want to check my facts with the Forumosa pundits to see what they say.
In rough outline are the facts (not the critiques, but the facts) basically accurate? (I realize “facts” about Taiwanese elections are fairly scarce–but anyway)
Sorry for the delay in getting back to you but I wanted to talk with a prosecutor friend of mine who is down in the Kaohsiung District Court about the 2006 city elections before passing my thoughts along to you. Truth be told, since all Taiwanese elections are marked by some form of shenanigans, after awhile it becomes hard to remember who stole which election! Such is life in a developing democracy. And also today I had a chance to talk with an attorney friend of mine who is also a minor “mover and shaker” in the KMT.
What I would say is this:
I am limiting my comments to the criminal law aspects of things. And my comments are more about the Kaohsiung mayor election than about the Taipei. From a criminal law aspect not much happened in the Taipei City elections. From a historical standpoint the Taipei city elections had one bit of historical trivia; it was the last election James Soong ever ran in. So it marks the official end of James Soong (you won’t have Jimmy Soong to kick around anymore—wait, I am getting my corrupt politicos mixed up, that was Nixon, not Soong.) Well, the Taipei city elections do have that historical footnote.
Now, laying aside Taipei and turning our attention to Kaohsiung city elections. What you ended up with were two major court cases coming out of that election. First by way of background, as you maybe well aware the Kaohsiung election was very close, the DPP lady, Chen Chu (who was a former Amnesty International prisoner of conscious, just like V.P. Annette Liu) won by only 1,114 votes. A very thin margin by big city standards (around 1,140,000 ballots were cast in that election).
The first of the court cases involved a video that Chen Chu’s camp took showing a guy on a bus buying votes ($500NT each) for the KMT mayor candidate. The Kaohsiung District Prosecutors office (including my friend) opened an investigation. This was early December, before the election day. Sure enough, a number of people on the bus confess to selling their vote. They catch the vote buyer, he too confesses. But—no link showing that the candidates actually knew this was going on.
What it amounted to was a pre-election publicity stunt for the Chen Chu camp; my prosecutor friend and I agree on that. It was kind of clever; put two of your guys on a bus rented by the other guy taking his guys out to a banquet while hitting them up to buy their votes. Have your guys secretly film it with their cell phone video cams and then throw a fit about it a week or so before the election. Prosecutors catch a couple of very small fish, you get to bemoan the state of Taiwanese democracy and portray yourself as the good guy trying to root out corruption. But this is a wee bit of hypocrisy as the DPP down in the south is well known for its vote buying acumen. So it is the pot calling the kettle black. But, it does provide a historical footnote; when playing Taiwan Politics Trivial Pursuit you can ask the other players; “what is the oldest film footage of an actual vote being bought in a Taiwanese election?” And the correct answer will be: “Kaohsiung city elections, December 2006”.
The other court case came after the election. Due to the narrowness of the loss the KMT candidate of course files a suit. It is a combined private criminal lawsuit/civil suit. The claim was unspecified election illegalities and invalid ballots. (here in Taiwan on these kind of election suits the plaintiff does not really have to specify why they think the election was invalid; “losing” the election seems to be the “legal basis” for the cause of action!—that is true, I have asked my judge students what specifically is the basis and that seems to be it)
And what the whole thing amounts to is a hand recount by the court staff. Yes, judges, clerks and court bailiffs all devoted a couple of hours a day to hand recounting all the ballots. The recount took a solid week. But in the end it ended up widening the margin for Chen Chu. Nobody seems to know exactly what the final result of this court case was or is but everybody basically agrees Chen Chu is the victor and for all practical purposes the election is settled.
A couple of non-criminal justice aspects that I heard at lunch just now with my KMT attorney friend:
Item one: When James Soong quit the People’s First Party after the party was in quite a bit of debt. My attorney friend did not specific a figure but I presume he means millions of NT worth of debt. I should be quick to add, that is not unusual for Taiwanese “foundations” (political parties in Taiwan are types of nonprofit foundations). Most Taiwanese foundations (be they political parties, think tanks or whatever) are running way in the red. The banks/donors simply eat the loss as a kind of bad investment.
Item Two: About Frank Hsieh. As you know Frank ran in the Taipei mayors election and lost. As you also maybe aware, yesterday Frank won the primary election to represent the DPP next year in the presidential elections. I asked my KMT attorney friend about this.
He said it was an interesting story. Frank Hsieh and Chen Shui-bian despise each other and have been in direct competition all the way back from the time they were working as defense attorneys in the old Kaohsiung 8 trial back in the martial law days. After Frank Hsieh is fired as Premier, he is sent basically off to die in a hopeless battle, i.e. the Taipei mayors election. The KMT has Taipei city basically locked up. The KMT campaign and election machinery runs quite well in Taipei, and Ma Ying Jou is still the powerhouse there. So the DPP candidate is basically viewed as a “throwaway”, sent to die so to speak.
Well, what Frank Hsieh is able to do is very, very remarkable. And it really shows his political skills. Although he does lose the Taipei mayor election he does not lose badly—it is not a slaughter like the experts (including me) were predicting. Instead Frank is able to hold on to all the available DPP votes (i.e. very few DPP voters voted KMT or for independents.) and came out of it looking like a Rocky Balboa type survivor. Frank Hsieh showing so impresses the DPP movers and shakers, as well as the rank and file, that he gets picked as the DPP candidate for the next presidential election despite the fact the incumbent DPP president (Chen shui bien) can not stand him and the fact he lost the last election he was in and was fired as Premier.
All he needs to do now is run up the long flight of stairs in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Fine Arts and starting pumping his fist in the air while a ‘70s disco song plays and he will be the next Taiwanese president….well maybe.
Hope these comments help. I look forward to reading your piece.