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Violators of CEC rules will bear responsibility, Chang warns

Violators of CEC rules will bear responsibility, Chang warns

Premier Chang Chun-hsiung (張俊雄) yesterday warned that city and county election officials who persist in refusing to abide by the decision of the Central Election Commission to adopt a "single-step" voting process in the January 12 legislative elections "will find it impossible to avoid criminal, administrative or political responsibility."
Speaking at the Cabinet's ear-end news conference, Chang stated that the Democratic Progressive Party-led government bore responsibility to ensure that the upcoming election "is held in a legal and stable manner."
Under the single-step process ratified by the CEC in November, each voter will collect four ballots, two for the legislative candidate and party polls and for two the referendums, the same time and cast them into four different ballot boxes. The referendum ballots will be for a governing Democratic Progressive Party-initiated proposal to compel the former ruling KMT to return its ill-gotten assets to the nation, and for a KMT-backed initiative to purge official corruption.
However, 18 city and county government under KMT mayors have insisted on using a "two-stage" system in which voters will first be given and will cast two legislative ballots after which they can choose whether or not to take part in the referendum voting.
KMT officials say that the two-step format, which has only been used in the 2004 presidential poll, will avoid confusion, but Premier Chang and other leading government and CEC officials have warned that the two-step system will cause confusion, will expose the political preferences of voters, facilitate "contract" based vote buying and is intended to push down voter participation.
Chang stated that the continued resistance of the KMT to the "legal resolution" of the CEC "was openly undermining the rule of law and fostering major social conflict" and warned that "if this becomes a precedent, the consequences could be unpredictable."
During the weekly Cabinet meeting yesterday morning, Chang had related that the Ministry of Interior had issued on Tuesday a legally binding interpretation of the Public Functionaries Election and Recall law that stressed that Article 7 of the election law clearly regulates that the Central Election Commission is the responsible agency for "directing and supervising" legislative and presidential elections.
The premier noted that the position of KMT presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and the KMT mayors that Article 11 of the election law gave them the power to "set up and manage voting stations" as a justification for implementing the controversial "two-stage" voting process was "wrong and invalid."
Chang related that the MOI maintained that local election commissions had the responsibility for finding and setting up voting stations and controlling who can enter such stations, but the question of the "single-step" or "two-step" collection, process "is a question of the voting process and procedure" which is under the CEC's direction.
Moreover, the MOI also stressed that local election commissions were "subordinate organizations of the Central Election Commission" and that municipal or city and county governments had no legal authority to interfere in operation of local election commissions.
"Therefore, since the CEC has already decided upon a 'one-step' voting procedure, municipal or city or county election commissions have no right to make any different resolutions," said Chang.
"We hope the two elections next year can take place in a process that respects the rule of law and with a system that the people can trust," said the premier.
Speaking later to reporters at the annual news conference, Chang added that the consequences for Taiwan's democratic development would be "grave" if a precedent was set for competing voting processes in the same election, and that the presidential election on March 22 "could suffer a major impact" if "social conflicts break out" during the legislative election over the voting system.
Referring to statements by Ma that local officials who adopted the two-step system would not bear criminal responsibility, Chang stated that "in a country based on the rule of law, it is impossible for persons or a political party which openly resist a legal order to not bear administrative, criminal or political responsibility" and urged all parties to "cherish Taiwan's democratic legal development."
Seconding the MOI position, Vice Premier Chiou I-jen (邱義仁) stated that "local governments have no legal right to issue any differing resolutions as this issue involves the voting process of a central government election and is not within the authority of local election commissions."
Chiou added that the question of the Cabinet's drive to ensure full implementation of the "single-step" system "is not a matter of whether we have confidence but whether we can hold our ground legally and of the impact on national democratic development."
"The CEC's resolution is legal and legitimate and the Cabinet has no reason not to forcefully support the CEC without hesitation and forcefully overcome all obstacles," said Chiou.
He further stated that "the national election system did not just begin today but has been in operation for over half a century and has never before had a situation of different systems or actions by local governments as in this case."
"Even the DPP in opposition never challenged the decisions of the CEC and I feel this current dispute is regretful and unnecessary," stated the vice premier.
The vice premier warned that "there could be no way to resolve the disputes and election suits" if conflicts occurred due to the existence of differing voting processes in the legislative poll.
"If conflicts erupt, both the governing party and the opposition party will pay a political price," warned Chiou. "I feel that the cost of doing our best to forcefully and thoroughly implement the legal 'one-step' voting system will be far less than allowing chaos to erupt."
"Even if we are accused of being arrogant and bossy, I am willing to do my best to prevent chaos in election operations and the damage to the national election system," Chiou stated.