Election News Blackout in Taiwan

There is an unusual election law in Taiwan that I don't ever recall seeing anywhere else (Apple Daily: Taiwan):  According to the Presidential and Vice Presidential Election and Recall Law, during the ten days between midnight on March 10 to the completion of the voting on March 20, no political parties or individuals may in any way, shape or form disseminate or discuss any information pertaining to opinion poll data.  The law covers traditional media (television, radio, print), Internet news sites, chat room postings and even SMS communication.

The penalty?  The fines will begin at N$500,000 and may reach as high as NT$5,000,000.

During the presidential election four years ago, some parties or media referred to opinion polls conducted prior to the ten day period.  The regulations were not explicit on this subject, but the Election Commission has indicated that these types of activities are now illegal.

The only ambiguity resides with underground gambling (see previous post).  An Election Commission official admits the problem: "Gambling is a gray area.  Strictly speaking, this is not an opinion poll.  However, the information may have a material impact on the election results.  This issue will have to be addressed in the future."

This is not a prohibition against the discussion of the issues at all.  Quite the opposite, because it is a way of focusing on the issues themselves, without the unsubstantive commentary such as: "The pan-Green party has just surged from a dead-heat to a five-point lead in the past two days, so the pan-Blue party supporters might as well as stay home on election day."  Instead, the voter will have to look at the parties' positions on the issues --- national security, economic development, foreign policy, defense, education, housing, transportation, etc. --- and make his/her own decision without worrying about how other people might be voting.

In the United States, the election is often based upon the "winner-take-all" system.  This means that votes going to a losing candidate are completely wasted.  So if you have an issue or candidate that appears to be supported by less than a majority, there will be no representation.  You might as well as stay home, since the exercise of your democratic right to vote is a waste of time.  Accordingly, the United States has amongst the lowest voter turnout among western democracies (some of which have "proportionate representation" systems).  The Taiwan presidential election is a "winner-take-all" system, and limiting the impact of opinion polls is a good way of encouraging voting.

Right before the midnight deadline, these are the final numbers (eTaiwanNews):

The governing Democratic Progressive Party forecast that incumbent President Chen Shui-bian and Vice President Annette Lu will win the March 20 election by a slim margin of 300,000 votes.

The DPP spokesman said that Lien-Soong would win by as much as 237,000 votes in Taipei City and County and 250,500 in Taoyuan, Hsinchu and Miaoli, and by 148,000 in Keelung, Ilan, Hualien and the Penghu islands.  However, Chen estimated that the DPP ticket would take the rest of the island, winning in central Taiwan's Taichung, Changhua and Nantou by 60,000, central south Taiwan's Yunlin, Chiayi and Tainan areas by 489,000 and southern Taiwan's Kaohsiung City and County and Pingtung by 387,000.

From the rival "pan-blue" camp, Lien-Soong headquarters spokesman KMT Legislator Huang Teh-fu estimated that the KMT-PFP ticket would win by 500,000 votes.

In a separate story about the election laws in Taiwan, (eTaiwanNews):

Election monitors said yesterday that the ruling party should be fined for inviting an Irish Nobel laureate to speak at a campaign rally for the March 20 presidential polls.

It could result in the Democratic Progress Party being fined between NT$500,000 and NT$5 million.

Betty Williams, winner of the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize for her work toward peace in Northern Ireland, appealed to the campaign rally to support the re-election bid of President Chen Shui-bian and Vice President Annette Lu  Sunday evening.

The Taipei Election Monitoring Committee, which is run by the Taipei municipal government, said the DPP violated a law that bans foreigners from stumping in elections by inviting Williams to give a speech at the Sunday night rally.

Williams' remarks were interpreted as campaigning behavior and so the ruling party was accused of being in violation of the Presidential and Vice Presidential Election and Recall Law.

Under Article 50 of the law, political parties are prohibited from inviting foreigners to attend campaign rallies, deliver campaign speeches, and attend founding events for election candidates.

The specific circumstances here are a bit murky, and will be subject to contestation.  Williams probably did not think of herself as being stumping in the sense of telling people whom to vote for, but she showed up to praise Annette Lu and Taiwan for women's rights accomplishments during the election period.