CEC chief under fire for consulting DPP over election date

TAIPEI, Taiwan, The China Post Staff

Central Election Commission (CEC) Chairman Chang Cheng-hsiung has come under criticism for allegedly “inquiring” with high-ranking officials of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) over the change of the legislative election date. The opposition Kuomintang (KMT) caucus yesterday lashed out at Chang for jeopardizing the impartiality of the CEC for so doing and demanded his removal.

Chang stirred up criticism after he told opposition lawmakers on Tuesday that he inquired with DPP “high-ranking officials” over the telephone and they preferred the legislative election to be held on Dec. 11, the day after the commemorations for the Kaohsiung Incident. Some of the best known DPP stalwarts were prosecuted during the Kaohsiung Incident for libeling the government and President Chen, then a maritime lawyer, was the defense’s attorney.

The opposition disagreed with the polling date for fear that government-held commemorations for the Kaohsiung Incident will become veiled campaign rallies for the DPP. The legislative election was traditionally held on the first Saturday of December but this year the election was moved to the second Saturday to give the DPP campaign a final boost, the opposition alleged. Opposition lawmakers were also furious that Chang had repeatedly ignored their request not to set the election date on Dec. 11.

The KMT caucus vowed to have Chang removed and also plans to revise the CEC organizational law in the upcoming legislative session. “Under Chang’s leadership, the CEC has become the DPP headquarters’ election machine and he has become the DPP’s election committee chairman,” charged KMT whip Huang Teh-fu. “Chang is more DPP than the DPP,” he said, branding Chang the mastermind behind scheduling the controversial “peace” referendum alongside the March 20 presidential election. The opposition had said the CEC’s credibility was undermined by holding the DPP-engineered referendum on the same day as the presidential poll.

In response, Chang maintained that he contacted DPP high-ranking officials to “passively understand the situation” instead of “actively asking for their permission.”

But Chang declined to reveal the identities of the officials he spoke to on the phone, only saying that he didn’t speak to President Chen or DPP secretary-general Chang Chun-hsiung. The CEC chief insisted that the Dec. 11 election date has been approved by all CEC members and that there is no reason rendering the change of time necessary. The CEC rejected a DPP lawmaker’s proposal to postpone the legislative election to January 2005 citing budgeting issues. Some DPP lawmakers were also critical of the CEC for the disputes over the election date. “The CEC is carrying out half-hearted reforms, which are even worse than no reforms at all,” said lawmaker Lin Cho-shui. “What exactly is the CEC doing here?” Lin suggested the CEC delay the election to Dec. 31 after the fall legislative session comes to an end in order to quell the controversy.

DPP stalwart Hung Chih-chang, sometimes an outspoken critic of his own party, favors a polling date in January, 2005. But the DPP legislative caucus stressed that it will respect the CEC’s decision, saying that the opposition is free to stage its own large-scale campaign events. The DPP caucus opposed the idea of the ruling and opposition caucuses jointly deciding on the election date on the grounds that it violates the CEC’s authority.