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« China at it again? | Main | Technical Difficulties »

2004/3/22

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FrankLin

Thank you. I really wanted to know what's up with those invalid votes. Nice to have people like you or from international political watchdogs observe the election. I'm quite confident this invalid votes issue won't really be a problem.

Crystallic

Just an observer again.

Any political candidate would react in the same way as Lien; especially the person is dealing someone like Chen.

A recount of ballot is good. What's one day... compared with four years? Clear the clouds, and move on.

Somehow, I feel compelled to expressed otherwise views, which sound pro-Lien/China when I read your postings. Strange.


Crystallic

Hey Tiger,
Just want to compliment you for the provoking and interesting thoughts. It's refreshing.
I wanted to post a general feedback on your website to you, but can't the way to do so.
Cheers!

Prince Roy

Well for starters, you only observed 22 ballots. I would hesitate to draw general conclusions from such a miniscule sampling. Also, the ones I would be more worried about are the invalidated ballots from Tainan and other places central to the Chen/Lu powerbase.

Finally, what about the estimated 200,000 military/police members that allegedly could not vote due to the National Security Protocol initiated by President Chen. Since you live near a base, did you observe members of the military casting ballots? I think this issue is potentially far more serious than the spoiled balltos controversy.

tiger

Crystallic-
No, any political candidate would not suggest to his followers a violent response to a clear-cut case for a recount. Recount, what's the big deal, but don't tell your followers to act like thugs and vent their anger. Especially after you have, days earlier, encouraged the other side to accept the results peacefully. Any political candidate would not imply rioting like Lien did, and certainly any good leader would not.

Prince Roy-
No, I observed 1045 ballots, not only 22. I certainly wasn't suggesting that all the voting is fair based on my experience. What I was trying to do is look at my experience and see if those numbers are in the realm of possibility. The added information that I got by going was that I got to physically see the ballots that were declared invalid. They were all rightfully declared invalid, most containing two stamps or being blank. What conclusions can be drawn? None, statistically, other than the number of invalid ballots shouldn't seem particularly disturbing, given the trend I saw. Of course, the fact that the vote was so close changes the relative value of those votes in question.

Yes, I saw many in the military and their families casting votes.

Crystallic

Question, Roy: What determines the power of a politician?
People power is the usual political tool. In this case, should Lien ask for a recount in a nice fashion? Then he may as well just go home and sleep.
But I agree violence should not be encouraged. He may have asked for the people to stand up for the demand. On the other hand, is KKT solely to be blamed for the violence or it's "in" the people? Look at the way politicians behave during official debates. Full of violence. Should I be surprised?
Chen might do the same?

Still, it's sad that it happened. Good point, Roy. :)

Crystallic

Roy,
The controversy over the invalidity of votes is - Lien accused that invalid votes for Chen were counted as valid ones.

So looking at the invalid votes is not looking at the whole picture.

Crystallic

Sorry, my previous 2 messages were response to Tiger and not Prince Roy. I was confused who wrote what, cos I am new to the layout.

Adam Morris

Very interesting. Thanks for that. Let us know of any other stuff like this you come up with.

Latest Asian Times Article

Taiwan: Recounts, fights, shredded democracy
By Laurence Eyton

TAIPEI - Taiwan is suffering its gravest political crisis in 25 years and on Tuesday three days after the disputed presidential election, this capital city was all but paralyzed by supporters of the losing side, protesting alleged irregularities in voting and demanding a recount. Both sides, while agreeing in principle on a recount, are wrangling over how to organize it, how long it will take and who will do it. Nobody knows. The law is silent: there has never been a national recount.

In a sign of how the situation has deteriorated, a fist fight broke out in the legislature Tuesday after President Chen Shui-bian, narrowly reelected Saturday, asked his governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to introduce a revision to the election laws providing for recount. His proposed amendment would apply retroactively to his own case and would mandate a recount if the margin of victory was less than 1 percent.

Chen, who was shot in an apparent assassination attempt last Friday, the day before voting, was reelected by a margin of 0.228 percent over his challenger, Lien Chan of the opposition alliance of the Kuomintang (KMT) and People First Party (PFP), known as the pan-blues (from the color of the KMT emblem). The outcome was immediately rejected by the pan-blue losers. After small riots in two cities Saturday night and island-wide protests, Taipei is still in near paralysis.

Depending on where one stands in Taiwan's political spectrum - either with Chen's DPP and its allies, the so-called pan-greens (after the color associated with Taiwan independence) or the pan-blues - what is happening is either a party that failed at the ballot box attempting to organize a "people power"-style coup d'etat, or a party cheated at the ballot box demanding justice.

However this fracas is eventually resolved, and only now is it becoming clear how it might be, Taiwan's reputation as a model democracy has been shredded. This has major regional implications since it allows anti-democrats in Hong Kong to inveigh against its territories moving toward the entirely elected legislature that it is allowed under the basic law from 2007.

Setback to democratic tendencies in China
It also deals a major setback to vaguer hopes of democratizing tendencies in China itself, allowing leaders comfortable with authoritarianism to exploit traditional Chinese fears of social chaos as a reason for avoiding political change.

All this is rather beside the point in Taiwan itself however. Here the focus is on finding a solution to the current crisis that prevents it from spiraling into something much, much worse - ethnic violence or even civil war.

The fist fight on the floor of the legislature appeared to be a ruse by the pan-blues to force the president into dropping the idea of a revision to the law and instead declaring a "state of emergency" - which to all intents and purposes means martial law - and using the huge powers such a declaration would give him to order a recount on his own initiative. The DPP on Tuesday evening was mulling how to handle this challenge. It sees the pan-blue proposal as hugely damaging to the idea of democracy. The irony is that pan-blues governed under a state of emergency for 38 years in Taiwan's less democratic days.

The DPP is keen to get a recount under way, it says, since it has little to fear from the result. Whatever the result, Chen said at a Tuesday midday news conference, the DPP will abide by the result. But could the pan-blues give the same guarantee? As of Tuesday evening, there was no pan-blue response.

Talk of deepening crisis, ethnic violence or even civil war is not hyperbole. The fact that the situation has not turned seriously violent since Saturday night is largely because of the low-key attitude of the government. But as the pan-blue protests continue, the pan-greens are wondering whether they have to mobilize to protect their victory. "We are waiting for someone to give the word," one female DPP supporter told me Tuesday night. "My father and my brother are waiting for the word."

How responsible are the pan-blues?
Much depends on how responsible the pan-blues are. So far the evidence is ominous. Pan-blue demands have shown a lack of logic and the behavior of the pan-blue leaders has been incendiary. Their problem is that they have whipped up supporters to a fever pitch of indignation, promising that they will not stop their protests until their demands are met - while the machinery for meeting those demands in accordance with the law and the constitution is rather slow, and in some areas totally untested.

This means that they either hope to force the government to put aside parts of the election law to deal with the case speedily, which the greens and even dovish blues - there are some - see as a victory for mob rule. Or else they will have to tell their supporters to disperse on the basis of promises from a government they have spent the last 72 hours telling their supporters they cannot, under any circumstances, trust.

The pan-blues make claims not all of which are consistent either with the law or with each other, including:

That Friday's assassination attempt might have been staged to win a sympathy vote for the president and it was not right for the election to go ahead until all the details of the affair were known. Because of this they argue the election should be annulled.
That the margin of the pan-green victory - 30,000 votes out of 12.9 million cast - was so small that the votes should be recounted.
That the number of spoiled ballots at 310,000 was unusually high compared with past elections, and the ballots should be inspected and the votes recounted.
That the government raised the national security alert level after the president's shooting Friday, thereby unfairly preventing some 200,000 troops from voting. The election should be annulled and authorities should order a new vote in which the troops are allowed to vote.
That polling stations were badly run and the vote-counting systematically flawed, and for these reasons the election should be annulled and another one called.

Contradiction between recount and annulment
There is obviously a contradiction between wanting a recount of the ballots and wanting an election annulled - though pan-greens predictably claim the pan-blues will try to get the election annulled if a recount does not go their way. Confusingly, the pan-blues have launched legal action to bring about both eventualities.

In a meeting with foreign journalists Monday night, Lien Chan, KMT chairman and the pan-blues presidential candidate, seemed to imply that a recount of the ballot would suffice for the pan-blues to concede the election if necessary. But it appeared at the conference that neither he nor his running mate James Soong, chairman of the PFP, had actually given thought to the contradictory nature of their demands.

Taiwan's election laws do have ways in which the pan-blues' grievances might be addressed. But some of the complaints are simple non-starters. For example, an election cannot be canceled, even after an assassination attempt, unless the president is killed. So Chen's injury - he had a deep flesh wound in his stomach - did not constitute legal grounds for halting the voting Saturday. To have done what the pan-blues now suggest should have been done - and it is noteworthy that they made no suggestion of suspending polling before the election - was illegal.

Some pan-blues likened Chen to Hitler, Saddam
As to the idea that the attack was staged, that some people would think that Taiwan's president had himself shot in the stomach to win an election is comment more on the irrationality whipped up by the hysterical pan-blue election campaign - which likened Chen to Hitler and produced posters saying that Osama bin Laden approved his action and that his call for a referendum was a tactic he copied from Saddam Hussein. Former soldiers have pointed out that "shooting to injure" in the stomach doesn't make any sense whatsoever.

The complaint that 200,000 service personnel were unable to vote was a canard laid to rest Monday by the Ministry of National Defense. The heightened security status after the assassination did not affect troop deployment and only some 13,000 troops were unable to vote as a result if having to be in a state of combat readiness, which is standard procedure during a national election. Furthermore, even if the election were to be annulled and another one called, under Taiwan's laws (and all these laws were passed by the KMT when it was in office) only those who voted in the first election could vote in the second. So the troops still could not vote and pan-blue demands that they should be allowed to do so are basically demands for the government to set aside aspects of the election law that one of the contenders deems inconvenient.

The pan-blues are on firmer ground when it comes to irregularities with the voting. But there are a number of problems for the pan-blues that might well deny them the overturning of the election result they seek.

First there is simply no evidence of widespread tampering with the ballot. Taiwan's vote counting procedure is one of the most transparent in the world. Ballot boxes are opened in public. Ballots are withdrawn one by one and shown to the observers. The vote is read out and then credited to whichever side it supports. The openness and generally consensus nature of the counting - observers can protest if they see mistakes being made - means there is very little room for error.

Systemic fraud by DPP implausible
Secondly, the charge that has been widely believed by gullible visiting journalists, that the balloting and counting process was in the hands of the DPP and therefore liable to manipulation, is nonsense. The balloting and counting is carried out by local governments, usually using the help, on election day, of teachers from the schools which are usually where polling stations are situated. The majority of these local authorities are pan-blue controlled. A large number of local government workers are KMT members and, because of martial law-era discrimination against hiring native Taiwanese, a very large proportion of teachers are mainlanders and hard-line pan-blue supporters. The idea that there was systemic fraud by the DPP within such a system is highly implausible.

As for the high number of invalid ballots, Lee Tseng-tsai, secretary-general of the Kinmen County Election Commission, told Taiwan's Central News Agency that he thought the comparatively high ratio resulted from changes in the election laws passed by the pan-blue dominated legislature last October. The changes significantly tightened the criteria for ballot validity. In the past a ballot was valid if the ink stamp used to vote was placed not just in the appropriate box but also either on the number of the candidate or his picture. The idea was that if an intention to vote for a particular candidate was clear the vote would be counted. The reformed law made only ballots stamped in the proper box meant for the stamp would be considered valid. The March 20 election was the first under which this system had been used.

On top of the new stringency in voting procedures was also the action of a group of activists the Million Invalid Ballot Alliance, which was encouraging people to spoil their ballots as a protest against what they called "an unfair political system".

In theory what happens now should now be up to the courts. The pan-blues have filed their suits against the Central Election Commission. It should now be up to the courts to decide if there is a case to answer, hear evidence and make a judgment whether to annul the election in whole or in part or whether to order a recount, once again in whole or in part.

The Central Election Commission cannot administer the recount since it is the defendant in the pan-blue's legal suits. Yet the courts have neither the election-related expertise nor perhaps even the manpower to administer a recount. Each ballot will have to be counted in front of a judge or judges and a panel of observers. Some estimates say that 3,000 judges will be needed. The head of the Taoyuan County local government Chu Li-lun, himself a KMT member, estimates that in his county at least, given the facilities available, a recount would take a month. And the method he envisioned, delegating it to the county election authorities supervised by officers of the High Court, is far speedier than the pan-blues' preferred method - to have everything recounted by the High Court centrally in Taipei.

This story will not be over soon.

(Copyright 2004 Asia Times Online Co, Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact content@atimes.com for information on our sales and syndication policies.)



Dennis

Great stuff Tiger. Most foreign media coverage I've seen of the election has been heavily biased toward the Lien-Soong camp by reporting only accusations with very little fact-checking. If you'd like to take a look at some of my own perspectives, my URL is a link to my blog on the election.

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