Taiwan needs absentee voting

The following letter was published in the Taipei Times today. In the letter I suggest that Taiwan should adopt pre-poll and absentee voting to reduce the level of disenfranchisement in elections.

On the same day that voters turned out for the nine-in-one elections in Taiwan, there was also a state election in Victoria, Australia.

I followed both elections with interest and voted in my home state of Victoria.

Voters in both Victoria and Taiwan can be pleased about the way the elections were conducted and have a high degree of confidence in the integrity of the results.

One major difference between the two elections is that in Victoria almost 30% of voters cast their votes via pre-poll or postal vote.

Voters in Victoria also had the option of casting an absentee vote, i.e. voting in a district other than the one they were registered in on election day.

However, in Taiwan many people are denied the opportunity to vote because they cannot attend the polling booth near their registered residence on election day.

This leads to significant disenfranchisement of military and emergency services personnel, as well as university students, shift workers and other people living away from their registered residence.

Rather than informal arrangements such as a student association organising buses for students to travel home (University students, military members take steps to vote, Taipei Times, 19 Nov 2014) the Central Election Commission needs to implement pre-poll and absentee voting to ensure all Taiwanese have an opportunity to vote.

These measures could initially be trialled at by-elections before being adopted for nationwide elections.

Election results reflect deep concerns of Taiwan’s citizens: Bruce Jacobs

The following commentary by Bruce Jacobs, Emeritus Professor of Asian Languages and Studies at Monash University, was originally published on The Conversation.

Voters assert themselves as Taiwanese in a warning to KMT

By Bruce Jacobs, Monash University

Taiwan’s opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has won an unprecedented landslide victory in the country’s local elections. The ruling Kuomintang (KMT) won only one of Taiwan’s six largest “special municipalities” in voting on Saturday and this by a very narrow margin. Elsewhere, the DPP won unexpected victories in many counties and municipalities.

The best explanations for this unexpected DPP victory relate to the losing party. Like Australians, Taiwanese want their ruling parties to be able to govern themselves. The divisions between Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard have resonances in the KMT between Taiwan’s president (and KMT party chairman) Ma Ying-jeou, former vice-president and premier Lien Chan and Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng, who have been quite open in their three-way mutual detestation.

In addition, parties that cannot govern themselves usually perform badly in policy and administrative terms. Recently, major food companies in Taiwan have used industrial oil rather than food oil in the preparation of foods. This has raised huge questions over the government’s ability to provide safe food for its citizens.

Ma’s government, which should be aligning with South Korea as a fellow Asian democratic state, became hysterical about the “certain” damage to the Taiwan economy when the South Koreans signed a free trade agreement with China. It turned out that the Taiwan government had not seen the text of the FTA nor had it done any research. Continue reading

The battle for Taichung on social media

screenshot of Lin Chia-lun's Facebook page

Taichung is a key battleground in Taiwan’s local elections. Overall victory or defeat in the elections is likely to be judged on who wins the mayoral race in Taichung. Both major parties have a realistic chance of winning what is likely to be a close contest. Hence, they will be investing a great deal in their campaigns.

The closeness of the contest in Taichung makes it an ideal site for analysing and comparing the campaign strategies of the two major parties. In this post I have done some basic analysis of how the two mayoral candidates are using social media to get their message out to voters.

The battle for Taichung sees incumbent mayor Jason Hu (胡志強) of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) competing against Lin Chia-lung (林佳龍) of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). These two candidates also contested the election for Taichung Mayor in 2005 with Hu the victor on that occasion.

Jason Hu has been Mayor of Taichung for thirteen years now, nine as Mayor of Taichung City and the past four as the Mayor of Taichung Municipality. Hu is also a Vice-Chairman of the KMT and a former Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Lin Chia-lung was the Legislator for Taichung No. 6 District until he resigned shortly before the election. He has previously served as  Director of the Government Information Office and Secretary-General of the DPP. Continue reading

Taiwanese community in Melbourne shows support for Sunflower Movement

330 action in Melbourne in support of Taiwan's Sunflower Movement

About 500 members of the Taiwanese community rallied outside the State Library in Melbourne yesterday. The rally was part of a worldwide action with other events taking place in major cities of Australia, Europe, Asia and North America to show solidarity with Taiwan’s Sunflower Movement.

At the same time as the event in Melbourne a crowd estimated at 350,000 was turning out in Taipei. This represented a massive show of public support for the student-led Sunflower Movement which has occupied the Legislative Yuan in Taipei since 18 March. The movement’s key aim is to ensure that the Cross-Strait Service and Trade Agreement (CSSTA) and other agreements with China are subject to proper scrutiny by the legislature. Continue reading

Chomsky: it was a misunderstanding

Noam Chomsky holding sign opposing media monopoly in Taiwan

Lin Ting-an (林庭安) is a Taiwanese student who visited Noam Chomsky and several other academics in the USA and asked them to support the campaign against a media monopoly in Taiwan. She took the photograph above of Chomsky holding a sign written in Chinese opposing media monopoly. The photo was widely republished in the Taiwanese media.

Now the Chinese-language China Times is claiming Chomsky was misled about was written on the sign. China Times is owned by the Want Want Group which is part of the consortium seeking to purchase the Taiwan assets of Next Media and create a media monopoly. They have an obvious interest in discrediting the student led campaign against a media monopoly in Taiwan.

The Taipei Times has covered the story over the past two days. Yesterday they printed an article in which Lin Ting-an explained her meeting with Chomsky. Lin has published the full text of the email she sent to Chomsky to arrange the meeting. You can see the text of the email here. In the email Lin clearly explained the campaign against a media monopoly in Taiwan. She also provided an English translation of the sign she photographed Chomsky with.

Today the Taipei Times published another article saying the China Times had intensified its attacks. The China Times claimed Chomsky and another US academic, Ned Block, were misled by Lin Ting-an. This was based on an email Chomsky had sent to Liu Shih Diing (劉世鼎), an associate professor at the University of Macau.

The China Times has an obvious interest in discrediting the movement which is trying to stop it from expanding its control of the Taiwanese media. They previously attacked NTHU student Chen Wei-ting (陳為廷), a leader of the anti-media monopoly movement who famously criticised the Minister for Education in the legislature.

I contacted Noam Chomsky by email with a few questions about the issue and he replied within a few hours. He said a “stream of journalists” had written to him from Taiwan. He provided the following statement which he also sent to journalists from Taiwan.

I have been in touch with my friend Ned Block, a philosophy professor at NYU, who was also photographed holding a poster. His experience was the same as mine. Both of us were under the impression that the poster called for freedom of press and opposed monopoly, and said nothing about China. I don’t charge anyone with deceit or misrepresentation. I assume it was simply a misunderstanding, resulting from the fact that neither of us reads Chinese.

I must add that I first became aware of Chomsky about 20 years ago via his book Manufacturing Consent. This is an influential tome about how the media in the United States acts as a propaganda machine to defend the political and economic interests of the state and large corporations.

Chomsky has consistently advocated for freedom of the press for many decades. He has also been a victim of  the US media’s self-censorship as they have consistently ignored the views of Chomsky and others from the left. It should be obvious what Chomsky stands for even if he cannot read Chinese.

Foreign observers needed for election

I had a letter about the need for election observers published in the Taipei Times today. While I hope the forthcoming election will be trouble free, I note in the letter that Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) supporters have engaged in violent protests following election losses in 2000 and 2004. The risk of violent protests destabilising the political system and affecting the transfer of power should not be ignored.

It is disappointing to see that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has not provided funding to European academics to observe next month’s presidential and legislative elections (“European election observers denied funding by MOFA,” Dec. 2, page 1).

The elections should be an opportunity to showcase Taiwan’s democratic development to the rest of the world.

DPP presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) has a good chance of winning the election. If Tsai is victorious, it will mark another transition of power and solidify Taiwan’s transition to democracy that began with the lifting of martial law in 1987.

However, one hopes the transition will be smooth and trouble-free. A look at Taiwan’s recent history suggests the possibility of trouble. Continue reading