I do not usually comment on political news in Taiwan, a neo-liberal rubbish bin permeated by the ruling class Kuomintang (KMT) and a sustainable modern alternative to their dictatorship and world-record thirty-eight-year martial law. I also do not comment on the so-called “Sunflower Student Movement,” more rubbish which benefited no one but the members of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and no-party candidates who parlayed it into a trouncing of the KMT candidates in the recent mid-term elections. Until the “Sunflower” seeds demand jobs and labor unions with collective bargaining agreements with their bosses, their street theatrics are groundless.
I do want to comment on a front page article (Taipei Times, Fri., Dec. 5, 2014, “Candidates, voters register for Taipei labor director”) in which I see how Taipei City’s mayor-elect, Ko Wen-Je’s mimics the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to vet candidates running for election in 2016 in Hong Kong. The “Umbrella Student Movement” was up in arms and on the streets for weeks because of China’s curtailing the choices Hong Kong voters will have. At least the Chinese are frank about it. Ko’s “I-Voting” system, which he will use to select the next director of the Taipei Department of Labor, seems fair and democratic on the surface, but it isn’t.
Ko Wen-Je’s campaign promise to use an “I Voting” system was meant, he said, to encourage candidates and voters to register to vote for and choose Taipei’s new labor director. It sound democratic with collective decision making which smacks of a utopian workers’ state, but it is only a gimmick.
The “open government” Ko is initiating goes like this: Instead of appointing a labor chief, which is always what mayors around the world do, be they from capitalistic, communistic, or theocratic cities, the mayor-elect of Taipei is opening the position of Labor Director to candidates selected in an on-line vote.
I am skeptical about this system for a number of reasons. First of all, what if the voter is not computer literate and cannot vote on-line? ‘No problem,’ says the Ko team; campaign headquarters will serve as an alternate polling place for registered voters to sign up to vote. That’s all well and good, but what if the voter is infirm or has no convenient means of reaching the Ko Wen-Je’s headquarters? Is the Ko team prepared to send access-a-ride vehicles to pick up interested voters and drive them home? Why not just send out vote-gathers with laptop computers and Wi-Fi connections to help the dispossessed from the comfort of their own living rooms?
According to DPP Legislator Lee Ying-Yuan, who has been made the liaison between the Ko team and DPP, “More than one hundred people have signed up as candidates and ten thousand have registered as voters.” The candidates write their platforms in the form on-line and will be interviewed somehow. Could imagine one hundred plus interviews on-line? “We have a panel of thirty, made up of unionists, who will pick five candidates…and registered voters will be asked to vote for one.” Doesn’t China also have a panel to vet and choose who the Hong Kong voters can vote for in 2016? Is what Ko doing any less democratic? What does he need a panel of unionists for to pick five candidates? Just let the people vote directly. I do not think any of the “Sunflower” youngsters will be taking to the streets to protest this lack of democracy and choice. Many probably think Ko is more democratic for inaugurating the “I Voting” system and that’s exactly what he wants them to think; that’s why he put it on his platform to attract young liberal-minded voters.
Ko Wen-Je’s “I-Voting” system is so half-assed that his administration has no authority to verify the ID numbers of those who volunteer to be candidates or voters. Every person over twenty-years-old with a Republic of China national ID is eligible to vote; whether they live in Taipei or not, they can vote for the Taipei Labor Director!
Furthermore, an eligible voter can register to vote as many times as he or she wishes; the media has already tested the process and was successful in having one person register three voting accounts! When asked what he would do to prevent fraud, Ko naively said it depended on honesty and trust.
While Ko is doing “I-Voting” to fulfill a campaign promise, he is only allowing it to be done in choosing the future director of the Taipei Department of Labor. How about doing it to choose the directors for all the departments in his administration? Why is labor such a throw-away for his frivolous half-baked plan?
Does the fate of millions of working people in Taipei mean so little to mayor-elect Ko? If he really cares for workers, he should forthrightly appoint a Labor Director who would institute a “living wage,” improve working conditions, and set a higher standard for other cities and the central government of Taiwan to follow. Wages in Taiwan are at the same level they were sixteen years ago.
The notion of “open government” is a noble idea and direct democracy is the only true democracy, but this “I-Voting” system is a sham and a farce.
Finally, the main reason Ko Wen-Je is initiating the “I-Voting” system, and he stated it himself, is to ease the pressure on him to appoint positions in his administration. “Since my election, there have been many people trying to talk me into appointing people for positions.”Hurry up, vox-populi; you have until 5:00pm this Sunday to run for the office of Labor Director of Taipei, vote as many times as you like, and maybe be one of the five candidates chosen by a panel, and vote again for what will be five of the same ideas.
For One Big Union.