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

Taiwan-based writer pens debut sci-fi novel

ntshona cover -- artwork by Naimei

I came across some information about a new sci-fi novel via a post on Facebook by Naimei Iemian who created the cover art for the book. I was intrigued by the the synopsis of this novel set in a futuristic mega-city called Ntshona. Curious to find out more I got in touch with the author Matthew Robinson and asked him a few questions.

Matthew first came to Taiwan in 2011 planning a three month stopover on the way to Japan. “Soon after arriving, I realised Taiwan was more than I had imagined, so I extended my stay to six months, then went to Japan for three, then returned to Taiwan for another three,” Matthew said. He returned to England for a while before coming back to Taiwan a few months ago.

Matthew said he had not followed a conventional path to becoming a writer. “As a kid, most of my family watched programmes like Star Trek and Star Gate, we enjoyed films like Star Wars… pretty much anything with the word ‘star’ in the title,” Matthew said. He also cited video games and Japanese anime as influences. “My dad was big on education, and would watch documentaries every night, usually about something scientific or history related. It all clearly had an impact on the types of things I enjoy as an adult, and people usually write what they enjoy.”

Matthew’s novel is set in the futuristic city of Ntshona which is described as the troubled capital of an economically powerful, yet highly introvert state, where disparity, avarice, lies, and political oppression poison social values.” This bears some similarities to Taiwan so I asked Matthew how the time he has spent in Taiwan influenced his writing.

“I used to live in South Africa, a country which has a turbulent and bloody history, in many ways similar to that of Taiwan, especially when you think of Dutch colonisation. During my time in South Africa I found it impossible not to be swept up by politics, something which affects the way in which I think and live my life now, especially in Taiwan, a country that has so many issues with identity,” Matthew explained.

Although Ntshona draws on Matthew’s experience in modern South Africa the novel still contains some elements related to Taiwan. “There is still prominent evidence of my connection to Taiwan within the story, the most apparent being that Eve, one of the lead characters, is from a Taiwanese family. There’s even a dispute in the novel between her and a self-professed Chinese character over the identity of Taiwanese people,” Matthew said. Matthew also pointed out that he used rapidly developing cities like Taipei and Taichung as a basis for how a metropolis might look two hundred or so years from now.

Matthew’s novel is now available as an ebook for Kindle on Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.

DFAT documents on human rights in Taiwan

Last year I submitted a Freedom of Information (FoI) request to Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) via the website Right to Know. The purpose of the request was to find out about Australian government’s attitude toward and monitoring of human rights issues in Taiwan. In particular the request focused on information regarding the detention and trial of former president Chen Shui-bian and other officials from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) on corruption related charges.

After several months the documents have been released by DFAT. There were a total of 24 cables from the Australian Office Taipei in the release. They cover the period from May 2008, when President Ma Ying-jeou took office, to January this year.

The cables reveal several matters which were of particular interest to Australia. The first of these was the PNG bribery scandal. This involved a payment of US $30 million dollars to two middlemen in Singapore in an attempt to gain “diplomatic recognition” from PNG. The scandal resulted in then Vice-Premier Chiou I-jen and Minister for Foreign Affairs James Huang resigning in May 2008, shortly before President Chen Shui-bian’s term expired.

The cable dated 7 May 2008 notes that, “the most likely explanation for the whole affair would seem to be that [Huang and Chiou] were taken in by two conmen.” This analysis has proved correct although it was not until June 2012 that Chiou was found not guilty in the High Court. Continue reading