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.

Homophobia must be condemned

I had a short letter published in the Taipei Times today. The letter was written in response to a group of so-called religious leaders in Taiwan campaigning against same-sex marriage. The Taipei Times have also made the issue the subject of its editorial today.

I would also like to remind people of the positive example set by Ven. Chao-hwei (釋昭慧) who hosted a wedding for a lesbian couple at Hongshi Buddhist College last year. That is a true example of religious leadership.

I was disturbed to read of some Taiwanese religious leaders speaking out against same-sex marriage (“Same-sex marriage criticized,” Sept. 19, page 2). The claims they make about same-sex marriage and homosexuality are not only ridiculous, they are a form of hate speech.

The homophobic views being promoted by these religious organizations create hatred and division within society. They cause real harm to gay people who are the target of their attacks.

Fortunately not all religious groups in Taiwan share these extreme views. However, it is important that they condemn the words of these so-called religious leaders. A clear message needs to be sent that preaching homophobia is totally unacceptable.

David Reid

My letter to the Taipei Times about Chen Shui-bian

My letter urging the government of Taiwan to grant medical parole was published in the Taipei Times today. I have been concerned about the treatment of Chen Shui-bian for some time. The recent reports issued by the Control Yuan and international group of human rights experts* highlight that the government has treated Chen poorly and must redress the situation. The text of my letter is below. Please also read this excellent polemic on the disgraceful state of Taiwan’s justice system published in the Taipei Times a couple of days ago.

For many months now, I have been closely following reports in the Taipei Times about the health of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁). I have felt dismayed by the decline in his health in recent months.

Video released recently provides evidence of the deterioration of Chen’s condition. I was also shocked to read that Chen was unable to attend a court hearing because he could not speak properly (“Church lambasts Ma over treatment of Chen Shui-bian,” March 2, page 3).

An international group of human rights experts has just issued a series of recommendations on improving human rights in Taiwan. These included the recommendation that the government take “appropriate action” concerning the health of Chen Shui-bian. (“Rights experts call for end to death penalty,” March 2, page 1).

The experts did not specifically recommend what action the government should take, but it is clear that they regard Chen’s treatment in prison and current situation in the Taipei Veterans General Hospital as unsatisfactory.

A week earlier, the Control Yuan issued a report recognizing “flaws” and “negligence” in the way in which the Ministry of Justice and Taipei Prison have handled Chen’s health problems (“Control Yuan OKs report on ‘flaws’ in A-bian’s care,” Feb. 23, page 1).

Both the Control Yuan and the group of international experts have made recommendations based on consideration of the available evidence.

It is time that the government acted on this evidence by granting medical parole to Chen.

*I have posted a copy of the recommendations of the international groups of human rights experts on my other Taiwan blog. The recommendations cover a broad range of human rights issues. Even if the government doesn’t take effective action on these issues, the document provides a strong base from which activists can argue for improvement of human rights in Taiwan.

Reflecting on human rights

Today is Human Rights Day. It also marks 33 years since the Kaohsiung Incident, a key event which set Taiwan on the path to democracy. While Taiwan has made many advances in human rights since the days of White Terror and Martial Law it is worth taking some time to reflect on the state of human rights in Taiwan today.

Many of Taiwan’s human rights problems are rooted in a transition to democracy without transitional justice. The legacy of the authoritarian party-state that governed Taiwan during Martial Law still influences the politics of the present.

The case of Chiou Ho-shun (邱和順) has spanned almost the entire post-Martial Law period. In many ways Chiou’s case is symbolic of Taiwan’s human rights problems.

Chiou was first sentenced to death in 1989. The case against Chiou was based on confessions under torture which were later retracted. In 1994, two prosecutors and ten police officers were convicted for using torture to obtain confessions in one of the cases. Chiou remains on death row and Amnesty International are campaigning for a re-trial of his case. Continue reading

Taiwan needs to embrace clean energy

I co-signed the following letter which was published in the Taipei Times today.

Is there an unfortunate misunderstanding about German politics and history among some Taiwanese?

After two of us had to clarify the path Germany took to abolish the death penalty, (“Real deal behind abolition,” March 17, 2011, page 8), we now have to clarify a misrepresentation of the anti-nuclear stance of Germany’s Green Party (“Anti-nuclear protesters confronted by Taipower ‘thug’ police: DPP lawmaker,” Sept. 10, page 3).

Contrary to allegations made in an article on Taipower’s Web site, the German Green Party was partly founded by people emerging from the popular anti-nuclear movement formed during the 1970s. It always had a staunch and unwavering anti-nuclear platform, and, most importantly, has been a key factor in pushing Germany toward a path of sustainable energy based on clean renewable energy and away from dirty coal and potentially calamitous nuclear fuel.

Germany is now a world leader in producing and installing renewable energy, such as wind power, thanks in large part to the Green Party’s insistence of giving clean energy a chance during its stay of power in German’s national government in the early 2000s. Continue reading

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