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Absenteevotinghastostartassoon

Jiang Yi-hua, minister of the interior, is more than ready to let eligible voters vote in absentia. If possible, he wants to make absentee voting a reality, come December. Voters will go to the polls to elect the new mayors of five special municipalities at the yearend. The yearend elections are important to our two major political parties. Both consider them a warm-up for the presidential election of 2012. Two of the special municipalities are Taipei and Kaohsiung. The latter will be expanded by annexing the county of Kaohsiung. Another is New North City, which is the county of Taipei at present to be upgraded to the new status, one directly under control of the Executive Yuan or the Cabinet. The remaining pair will be created by the merger of the cities and counties of Taichung and Tainan.

Absentee voting is believed to favor the ruling Kuomintang. That is why it is deadly opposed by the Democratic Progressive Party. The opposition is rightfully confident it will win the elections in Kaohsiung and Tainan. It may get Su Tseng-chang, a former premier and magistrate of Taipei who ran unsuccessfully for vice president in 2008, elected mayor of New North City or even Taipei. In other words, three of the five elections can be easily won. But if absentee voting is introduced in time for the election, those businessmen hailing from Taiwan's most popular county and their families who work and live in China do not have to come back home to vote, Su may lose the election as mayor of New North City. The law of the game now is that citizens living abroad have to return to their places of abode in Taiwan to vote. So are officers and men of the armed forces. Had absentee voting been in place in 2008, even the bullet that grazed President Chen Shui-bian's belly on the eve of the 2008 election couldn't have helped him get reelected by a paper-thin margin. Or at least so Lien Chan, the Kuomintang standard bearer, and his supporters believed. They contested Chen's reelection. Lien's appeal for invalidation of the Chen reelection was turned down by the Taiwan High Court after a recount and a summary investigation.

The opposition party cannot oppose absentee voting per se, for it is practiced in practically every major democracy. So the opposition has to say absentee voting will do more harm than good without “supplementary measures” and after a series of public hearings to reach a national consensus.

DPP leaders know the Kuomintang which has a two-thirds majority in the Legislative Yuan can railroad an absentee voting bill. The railroading, they claim, will further polarize the country, for there is no consensus among the government, the opposition and the public. In particular, they do not like Taiwan businessmen and families in China to be given the right of absentee voting. They are afraid these people may be influenced by the Chinese authorities who certainly do not like the pro-independence opposition party. Maybe. But we tend to believe the opposition is underestimating the wisdom of our businesspeople and their dependents. They are well-educated middle class men and women who can and will make their choice of candidates intelligently as sway voters. As a matter of fact, the DPP leaders' paranoiac fear of Beijing twisting Taiwan businesspeople with its little finger compels them to conclude that the independence of Taiwan's electoral system has yet to be firmly established and may be compromised if our emigres in China were allowed to vote from where they now reside.

But the truth is that banning absentee voting is unconstitutional. The Constitution gives the people “the right of election, recall, initiative and referendum.” They are not given the right to vote in absentia, simple because all the past administrations did not let them for fear that it would increase the odds of the opposition winning an upper hand. The Kuomintang governments under President Chiang Ching-kuo and Lee Teng-hui opposed absentee voting which was demanded by the newly created DPP whose supporters overseas, most of them resident in the United States, far outnumbered those of the ruling party. The situation changed after Taiwan businesses started relocation to the mainland of China. The number of eligible Taiwanese voters in China has shot up to three quarters of a million, much much more than all DPP supporters around the world put together. So the Kuomintang in opposition demanded absentee voting while the DPP was in power from 2000 to 2008.

Of course, the now opposition party ignored the demand. Now in power, the Kuomintang wants absentee voting, whereas the opposition party hates it.

Well, all this is politics. What politicians want is to win elections. By whatever means possible. Absentee voting is merely a form of gerrymandering to win. But after all is said and done, the politicians have no option but to abide by the Constitution and let voters vote where they live and work. The “supplementary” measures the opposition leaders now demand as a condition for absentee voting is nothing but a lame excuse they and their Kuomintang predecessors never failed to use. They used to say absentee voting is complicated and Taiwan isn't ready for it yet.

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