Within the central Taiwanese metropolis of Taichung earlier this month because the nation ready to vote in native elections, the identical phrase got here up a number of occasions throughout a speech by Democratic Progressive Social gathering hopeful Shen Shu-cheng: “heijin.”
The time period straight interprets to “black gold” however most within the viewers perceive that it refers to corruption, vote shopping for, or illicit cash used for political functions. The time period can also be one thing observers may seek advice from the latest previous, not the native elections attributable to happen on November 26.
Shen is working for county councilor in Nantou, Taiwan’s mountainous, land-locked county that demonstrates the boundaries of even one among Asia’s strongest democracies.
The elections this weekend are extremely aggressive and see a number of candidates vying for some 11,000 positions, amongst them 930 slots for mayors, magistrates, and county and metropolis councilors.
Whereas most will doubtless go easily, there have nonetheless been struggles this election cycle.
“The issue of shopping for votes could also be comparatively uncommon in cities reminiscent of Taipei and Taichung, however in Nantou, as a result of it’s comparatively rural, shopping for votes is definitely very severe, I’d say prevalent,” Shen mentioned, “And in Nantou vote shopping for is linked, on the similar [time], to gangsters concerned in different unlawful actions who additionally intimidate voters.”
The heijin period noticed its heyday within the Nineties throughout Taiwan’s bumpy and crime-ridden transition to democracy after almost 40 years of martial legislation led to 1987.
Some blame the sudden rise of the legal underworld as weapons grew to become broadly obtainable post-martial legislation, whereas different teachers have even blamed President Lee Teng Hui who led Taiwan between 1988 and 2000. Lee was reportedly keen to work with lower than savory characters when he lacked help inside the Chinese language Nationalist Social gathering, or the Kuomintang (KMT), throughout Taiwan’s transition from a single party-state to democratic rule in 1996.
Whereas the period has largely handed, patronage networks, vote shopping for, and even candidates with ties to organized crime have been exhausting to erase fully in additional rural areas.
“It is changing into tougher to purchase votes now as a result of now we have smartphones and may document movies or stay broadcasts at any time, which additionally makes older individuals not dare to purchase them so blatantly,” Shen mentioned. In Nantou, vote shopping for has grow to be discreet and performed by means of intermediaries just like the native lizhang or neighborhood warden, though the funds have dropped in worth.
The issue can nonetheless be discovered past Nantou. As of final week, the Ministry of Justice mentioned it has accepted 2,400 circumstances of election bribery involving almost 4,000 individuals.
Ko-lin Chin, professor of legal justice at Rutgers College in Newark, New Jersey, captures how organized crime infiltrated Taiwan’s politics within the Nineties in a 2003 guide Heijin: Organized Crime, Enterprise and Politics in Taiwan. In it, Chin quotes some political candidates who recall how heijin dominated the nation’s politics for the higher a part of a decade.
Chin declined to touch upon the modern downside of heijin however one of the crucial stunning occasions of the period was in 1997 — a yr after Taiwan’s first democratic elections — when a marketing campaign supervisor was buried alive, and several other native politicians have been shot in a farmer’s affiliation election.
The connection between crime and politics continues to be an issue in Taiwan. Among the many candidates working on November 26, almost 200 have legal information, election fraud, or drunk driving expenses, in accordance with a database compiled by the Taiwan Anti-Corruption and Whistleblower Safety Affiliation.
Among the many candidates on November 26, there’s Chung Tung-chin, working as an unbiased for Miaoli County Justice of the Peace who served a 3-year and 8-month jail time period for beating a person to demise and is linked to the demise of one other man in 1987 amongst different crimes, in accordance with court docket filings reviewed by native media. Chung reportedly known as the demise “unintentional,” native studies added. VOA reached out to Chung for a remark about his legal information, however inquiries went unanswered.
Then there’s unbiased Chiayi County councilor candidate Tsai Cheng-yi, who served a jail sentence for match-fixing Taiwan’s nationwide baseball league in 2009, and Yilan county Justice of the Peace Lin Zi-miao, who’s working for relocation although she was indicted on corruption expenses in August. VOA additionally reached out to Lin looking for solutions about her previous corruption expenses however didn’t get a response.
These remnants of the heijin period distinction with Taiwan’s worldwide fame. It scored twenty fifth worldwide in Transparency Worldwide’s 2021 Corruption Notion Index and presidential elections are open to worldwide observers and performed with fewer points.
Puma Shen, the director of the disinformation analysis group DoubleThink Lab, mentioned the heijin period started to vanish within the early 2000s, across the time Taiwan’s main opposition celebration defeated the KMT and the democratic system matured.
Wang Chin-shou, a professor at Nationwide Cheng Kung College in Taiwan, put the yr as 2008 when the KMT was keen to prosecute its personal members in a serious corruption scandal regardless of profitable the presidency and a majority within the legislature in nationwide elections that very same yr.
Wang mentioned judicial independence has come a great distance for the reason that Nineties as prosecutors can provoke unbiased investigations. Taiwan’s urbanization has additionally made it tough, he mentioned, because it has damaged up native patronage networks.
“After 2008, for county and mayor legislators, to not point out the presidential election, we mainly do not see vote shopping for anymore. I am unable to say that with 100% certainty, for instance in [rural counties] Hualien, Taitung, or Miaoli,” he instructed VOA. “It is nonetheless potential, however mainly the reality is that there are only a few in Taiwan. It is fairly widespread amongst township events and county and metropolis councilors, however fairly a couple of individuals have been arrested.”