DPP faces dilemma over punishing election mavericks

The China Post news staff

It is understandable why opposition leader Tsai Ing-wen has cut an angry figure after her Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lost out Thursday in speaker elections in some major city councils where her camp stood a good chance of winning. She was particularly angry at the defeat in the Tainan City Council, where the DPP holds a comfortable majority.

Apparently some DPP mavericks failed to toe the party line, and there might have been a number of reasons why they did so. It could have been genuine mistakes that some of them marked the wrong person on a ballot containing all the names of the councilors in an election open to all council members, although the major parties had made it publicly known which ones were their real candidates. However, his explanation is very unlikely. It could have been personal grudges that prevented a councilor from voting for someone he or she did not like despite the party’s order. But that would be putting personal interests before the party, and even those of the nation. And there is an even more despicable form of personal interests that could have prevented councilors from toeing the party line in the Thursday elections: selling one’s vote in return for money. Tsai apparently thinks the party lost to vote-buying in Tainan. She has apologized to supporters for the defeat, but openly condemned vote-buying as the ��shame of democracy�� in Taiwan. Taiwan is a maturing democracy where the fairness of its elections is now seldom questioned. But few would believe that vote-buying, which once was rampant in Taiwan, is no longer a problem. Neither did the DPP chairwoman believe so. Tsai’s pre-election order for all DPP deputies to local councils was that they display the ballots in such a way as to show who they voted for, amid widespread allegations that there had been offers of millions of New Taiwan dollars per vote. Prosecutors had warned that open display of ballots would be a violation of the law because the speaker elections were supposed to be conducted by secret ballot. But the DPP chairwoman stressed that the monitoring was needed to prevent vote-buying.

It is not a certainty that any of the party’s deputies really sold their votes, but six DPP Tainan councilors have been identified as having failed to support the party’s designated candidate.

The DPP has vowed to mete out disciplinary actions against these disobedient councilors within the next few days, and it is likely they will be kicked out of the party. But it is not a certainty that the DPP will really come down hard on these mavericks. After the last speaker election four years ago, a few deputies to the Tainan City Council were expelled from the DPP for failing to support the party’s designated candidate. But they were subsequently reinstated after the party accepted their appeals. The reinstatement was less about leniency than about political reality. Expelling them would have driven them to side with the rival Kuomintang (KMT) camp and cripple the DPP’s operations in the local council. It is the same dilemma the DPP has faced before. Expelling six of its deputies could tip the balance in favor of the KMT camp in Tainan. But by ignoring them, party discipline simply would become irrelevant. At any rate, the overall outcomes of the speaker elections have disappointed the DPP. Although the party now controls 13 local governments, it has failed to also grab the council speaker posts in five of Taiwan’s six special municipalities.

Worse still, its status as the majority party on the Tainan City Council has now come under threat because of the likely disciplinary actions it will take against the six deputies.