A guy running for head of a borough in Taipei gave me a sack of napkins even though I’m a foreigner without voting rights. Had I attended his rally in the park that day, I could have scored a free minced pork bun. Another candidate in the neighborhood gave away wooden back scratchers. These people are frugal. In the southern city Tainan, a candidate was passing out women’s cosmetic kits. News reports cite banquets, discounted air tickets and cash handouts. The potential booty is boundless with 19,762 people running for borough heads, city councils, mayoral posts and their county-level equivalents in most of Taiwan. It’s expected to grow next week in the final approach to elections Nov. 29. Vote-buying has long fit as snugly into Taiwan’s colorful, volatile politics as campaign banners and rallies. The China-friendly Nationalists and their opponents, who are less keen on tie-ups with old foe Beijing, need whatever they can get to win the island’s notoriously close elections.
But the practice has turned into a dangerous cat-and-mouse game as bribery-weary citizens use increasingly prevalent smartphones to photograph candidates whose gift value may top the legal limit of NT$30 (about one US dollar) per voter per election cycle. The central government picked that limit more than 20 years ago to let candidates stamp their names on small souvenir-like stuff such as pens, chopsticks and sacks of tissue paper — effectively three-dimensional business cards.
Since the campaign began, prosecutors had looked into 3,506 potential vote-buying cases involving 8,550 people as of Nov. 20 and charged 102. An official in the Supreme Procurator’s Office declined to compare this year’s catch to past elections but called investigations “pretty strict” in 2014.