Tsunami of Recalls Around the Corner, How to Fix A Lopsided System
United Daily News, June 13, 2020
In the wake of Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu’s recall, some Kuomintang (KMT) supporters initiated retaliatory recall campaigns against various elected representatives who supportesd Han’s recall. Regardless of whether the move can succeed or not, the battle of recalling Han has set off a mega-wave of recalls, shaking Taiwan’s democracy and political operations.
Objectively speaking, those who initiated retaliatory recall campaigns are far less sophisticated than the “civic society” and “national team” affiliated with the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Although both were politically motivated, the DPP was to first find a group of “unbiased-looking” opinion leaders to take a high call, and steadily warm up the recall campaign. Finally, they made concerted efforts with the DPP by mobilizing the peripheral social forces and the government power to get the recall passed.
In comparison, Han’s supporters initiating a recall campaign against Kaohsiung City Councilor Huang Jie and others immediately after Han was recalled looks rather unrefined and lacking in terms of strategic planning, similar to a guerilla war of fight-and-go. The targets being pinpointed mostly are local councilors but not national legislators. To recall them are not easy under the current system of multi-member electoral districts. This also exposes the KMT’s soft underbelly when facing political issues— its lack of political evaluation and execution capability.
Whether it is the DPP’s “meticulous planning” or the KMT’s “fight-and-go”, it shows that the current recall mechanism has become tools for political mobilization and retaliation. In the past, recalls were restricted by voting rate quorums, and publicity was prohibited, so that the recall system would not be reckless. Once the restrictive seals lifted, Mayor Han’s recall was easily passed. Due to the rashness and omissions of the revision of the relevant statutes, except for one for the recall of the president, almost all elected politicians may face the bullying of recall at any time, and even the doom of resignation.
In the campaign process, there have been discount offers from the Taiwan Railways, Taiwan High Speed Rail, National Chiao Tung University Student Union, such as providing free rides or cash discounts for students. Although the prosecution decided that such a conduct was not unlawful, arguing that the conduct did not express that voters should vote in favor or against. This may be justified by the logic of encouraging civil rights, but when there is a voting quorum the reasoning sounds far-fetched. The reason is that the recall rules requiring that “agree votes must be higher than negative votes”, paying money to increase the turnout rate is equivalent to increasing the recall success rate. It makes it easier for the rich and powerful to solicit a successful recall.
In 2016, when the Election and Recall Law and the Referendum Act were amended in tandem, “election alongside of plebiscite” and “recall alongside of election” were added at the same time. Three years later, the DPP saw that the referendum together with election was unfavorable to its ruling, it then revised the law to decouple the referendum from the election; but the more problematic recall alongside of the election was kept intact. In this way, no matter what the outcome of the KMTs recall effort, it is not difficult to imagine that the local elections in 2022 may see the resurgence of another wave of recall tsunami. All incumbent legislators may become potential prey. Under the rule of “recall alongside of election”, it will be very easy to cross the threshold, and may even impact the election results. The wave of recalls has also exposed the unreasonable design of the recall quorum. In particular, for national legislators, city/county mayors of a single constituency, and city councilors of multi-member constituencies, the quorum for the removal of the two is incredibly high. County mayors and legislators have lower recall quorums; although the quorums for county and city councilors are the same, but for those who garnered only a few thousand or even 10,000 to 20,000 votes, the quorum to recall them may be as high as 70,000 or 80,000s thousand votes, which is glaringly unreasonable.
Such a structurally distorted recall system is detrimental to the stability of democracy and political fairness. The DPP has so far enjoyed the benefits of recalls, but will it not wait until it becomes a victim before it thinks about revising the recall law？