Vote-buying rife on eve of poll despite crackdown

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 January, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 11 January, 2008, 12:00am

Allegations of vote-buying are flying across Taiwan in the final countdown to tomorrow's legislative election.

The number of alleged vote-buying cases has hit a record of more than 6,000 involving more than 10,000 people, according to the Justice Ministry, despite efforts to crack down on the illegal practice.

Officials said the most unusual case they had involved handing out free coffins to mourning families in return for their support in the southern county of Kaohsiung.

Other tactics included lottery draws, free sightseeing trips, lavish dinners, employment offers and so-called relief funds for low-income families.

One candidate was said to have paid up to NT$1,000 (HK$240) to 'hire' potential voters as his 'campaign assistants'.

Another candidate allegedly sent out ballpoint pens to potential voters that were found to have two NT$1,000 bills rolled up inside their caps.

Pundits said the smaller constituencies in the new legislative polling system were to blame for the surge in voting irregularities and further deterioration of election ethics.

Justice officials said votes were being bought for as much as NT$5,000 in some fiercely contested constituencies.

The Justice Ministry said yesterday that prosecutors were dealing with 6,152 alleged cases of vote-buying, many more than in the 2001 and 2004 elections. A total of 37 people have been indicted.

Justice Minister Shih Mao-lin said on Wednesday that he expected more people to be indicted for vote-buying before the polls, which many see as a pointer to the island's presidential election on March 22.

Mr Shih said that since July, the authorities had fielded secret agents in more than 4,000 areas judged to be at greatest risk to gather evidence of voting irregularities.

They have also held activities and set up special centres to promote clean polls, hoping to put a stop to the rampant election bribery Taiwan has endured for decades. Justice Vice-Minister Lee Chin-yung said: 'In addition to trumpeting the severe punishments against vote-buyers, we have offered rich rewards to voters whose information leads to the punishment of guilty parties.'

Candidates are prohibited from giving gifts worth more than NT$30 to any voter. Those found guilty of buying votes could be jailed for up to 10 years.

The central county of Taichung has seen the most vote-buying allegations, followed by the southern county of Tainan, the hometown of President Chen Shui-bian.

The largest group of people involved in alleged vote-buying was found in the southwest county of Yunlin, where 1,400 were reported to have accepted NT$500 per vote.

'The fierce competition due to the halving of the number of seats in the legislature has made such practices even more aggressive,' Prosecutor General Chen Tsung-ming said.

Election experts said vote-buying was almost inevitable, due mainly to the smaller constituencies introduced by the new electoral system.

'The new system divides Taiwan into 73 small districts plus two districts for six indigenous candidates,' said Wu Tung-yeh, political science professor at National Chengchi University. In the past, there were only 25 electoral districts.

Rich rewards

Vote-buying is a well-known phenomenon in Taiwan

Informers who tell authorities about instances of vote-buying can receive rewards, in Taiwanese dollars, of up to $10m