Volume 16 Number 4
The Voters Who Won't Stand for Corruption
01 August 2003

Citizens’ movements have played an important part in cleaning up general elections in several countries. Brian Lightowler charts their development from 1988 to the present day.
In 1988 high level police and government corruption in the Australian State of Queensland began to unravel before the glare of the media and a stunned public.

The revelations at a Public Enquiry into Police Corruption, headed by Tony Fitzgerald QC, brought into sharp focus questions about the soundness of state administrations and of Australian society in general. The once-unrivalled state Premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen was forced to resign, and his National Party was soundly defeated after 32 years in power.

State Police Commissioner Sir Terence Lewis was found guilty on 15 counts, sentenced to 14 years’ jail and stripped of his knighthood. Among other policemen convicted was an inspector who had personally collected Aus$180,000 in bribes.

Even so, Fitzgerald said that he had only uncovered the tip of the iceberg. He urged the state government to make far-reaching reforms in government and police administration and in the electoral system, which they did.

Against this background a group of ordinary citizens, of which I was one, launched the grassroots charter, Our Decision for a Corruption-free Queensland. It challenged dishonest community practices and provided a focus for the expression of public opinion. We called on individuals to join us in committing ourselves to what Perth’s Radio 6PR called a ‘super honesty’ programme.

Our Decision for a Corruption-free Queensland read in part: ‘Any system, however well designed, is only as effective as the people who operate it and the community environment in which it functions. In the final analysis the only effective and durable answer to corruption is incorruptible men and women.’

Some of those who pledged themselves contacted tax or social security offices to make restitution. One radio commentator when asked if he would sign up, said, on air, ‘This could cost me an arm and a leg.’ With the support of Deputy Opposition Leader Tom Burns, who later became Deputy Premier, campaigners for the Decision visited or wrote to all State MPs, outlining their convictions.
Our initiative later proved to be the prototype for a much larger action in Taiwan.


Liu Ren-Jou, a worker with Initiatives of Change (then MRA) described what happened: ‘In 1991, Taiwan conducted its first general elections for members of the National Assembly. Vote-buying was rampant. The atmosphere was such that the election came under great criticism from the public. [The National Assembly is the constitutional organ and has no legislative power. That resides with the National Legislature or Parliament.]

‘Towards the end of 1992, when the first complete electoral reform for legislatures was scheduled, one could predict that the main political power would move to Parliament. One day in May I was having lunch with two members of the business community who were very worried that the mood for vote-buying would favour only ambitious politicians, and enable financial groups to enter Parliament in great numbers, thereby worsening future politics. Business opportunities in Taiwan would become even more unfair. Fair competition and management and the development of the economy would certainly regress, the general environment would worsen and very soon Taiwan would lose hope.
‘The next day during a time of reflection, I had a strong inner thought to initiate a clean election campaign.

‘After discussing this with friends and colleagues involved with Initiatives of Change (IC) in Taiwan, we decided that over the next five years, IC would go all out to promote a clean election campaign.

‘I publicly announced that I, as an individual, would never enter politics or take part in any political elections, in order to prevent people from thinking or believing that I had any personal ambitions.’

The campaign had a four-point strategy:
* strive for joint action with non-government groups and religious groups;
* win the trust and support of the ordinary people;
* work for a positive response from the media and the public;
* make sure that the government keeps its promises in carrying out reforms.

Taiwan’s Clean Election Campaign was launched a few months prior to the 1992 National Legislature elections. In an interview with Liu and another Campaign leader, Jack Huang, a legal adviser to several major enterprises, Taiwan’s Global Views Monthly magazine reported: ‘It was Liu who conceived the idea of launching the “anti-corruption movement”. Some friends criticised him as a Don Quixote but he persevered. His conviction that “human nature could be changed” inspired others in MRA to join him.’ The article added that Huang’s tactical skills had won the full cooperation of 68 other civic groups who also became partners in the campaign.

Liu said that all those running the campaign were personally committed to maintaining political neutrality; seeking no personal advantage; generating no hatred towards the corrupt but inspiring love of country as the motive for action; and running the public demonstrations peacefully and with joy.

As the weeks went by the impact of the Clean Election Campaign grew and became ‘a raging fire’, according to Global Views Monthly. The Minister of Education, Mao Kao-Wen, wrote to 4.2 million parents of schoolchildren in support of the campaign. He said that the behaviour of parents influenced the development of their children’s character and none would wish their children to cheat in school exams. Parents must set an example and refuse vote-buying.

The China Post, Taiwan’s largest newspaper, gave free advertising space for the campaign and printed stickers, leaflets and slogans. By the time of the election, some 670,000 had committed themselves in signed statements not to accept a bribe for their vote nor to vote for any candidate who offered a bribe—practices which had been commonplace for two generations. Of the 350 candidates for the Legislature, 162 signed pledges against vote-buying. President Lee Deng-Hui and Prime Minister Hao Po-Ts’un received members of the campaign and personally handed over their signed pledges.

The results of the Legislature elections were hailed by the media as the miracle of the Clean Election Campaign and a victory for people power. Five billionaires who had stood as candidates offering all sorts of incentives were defeated—and in those same electorates the highest number of votes went to candidates who had supported the Clean Election Campaign. The ruling party, the Kuomintang (KMT), lost heavily while the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) doubled their number of seats. The General Secretary of the KMT resigned.

The campaign was certainly one factor in the swing of public opinion against vote-buying. It also helps explain the broad public support for then Justice Minister Ma Ying-Jeou’s crackdown on corrupt practices in the city and county elections of March 1994. Twenty-three were arrested—including a Speaker, a Deputy Speaker and nine councillors from city or county authorities—on charges of buying votes or accepting bribes. They were found guilty and The China Post reported that Ma’s move had been ‘like an earthquake measuring more than six on the Richter Scale, rocking not only the DPP but also the Kuomintang’. Ma told me that the Clean Election Campaign had a positive effect on his crackdown campaign. The two campaigns had interacted with each other.

Following the arrests, the regional chairman of the KMT resigned. A senior official of the KMT pointed out that if Ma continued his relentless attack on corruption the grassroots structure of the KMT could collapse. A group of KMT legislators warned Ma that if that happened he would be held responsible.
Ma responded by telling the Legislature that anyone believed guilty of vote-buying would be prosecuted, regardless of his background and political affiliation. The fight against corruption was not for personal show but an ongoing national policy. Nevertheless political pressure from within the ruling KMT on the President led to Ma’s eventual departure from the Ministry of Justice. But he told me, ‘After three years of crackdown as the minister I was able to prosecute more than 5,000 government officials and 7,500 people involved in vote-buying. The conviction rate when I left the Ministry (and most cases were still pending) was 40 per cent.’

Ma said that from an early age he had guarded against any form of cheating or corruption. So when he became Minister of Justice, his conviction for personal integrity broadened, so that it was ‘not only for myself and those around me but also for the people of the country’.

The Prosecutor-General said on Ma’s departure as Justice Minister that if he had been able to stay on for a further three years, Taiwan would be a very different place. In December 2002 Ma won a second term as Mayor of Taipei and is regarded as potentially the main rival to President Chen Sui-Bian in the elections due in 2004.

The present Minister of Justice in the DPP government of President Chen, Chen Ding-Nan, continues the relentless fight against corruption and what is termed ‘black/gold politics’, where criminal figures buy their way into public office as legislators, mayors or councilmen. Chen, nicknamed ‘Mr Clean’, was described by the popular monthly magazine Commonwealth as one of the 50 most influential figures in Taiwan’s history. The Asian Wall Street Journal (11 September 2000) quoted Chen on assuming office: ‘In the past, the government and the people didn’t obey the law and a lot of things that were wrong ended up becoming right. The crackdown on graft by the new government is an opportunity for people to be educated about the law. We can’t let Taiwan continue to be lawless.’

In the recent past, 10 per cent of the members of the Legislature, around 20 members, had backgrounds associated with gangsters, he told me in an interview. In the present Legislature following the December 2001 elections, however, only one member was considered to have a ‘mafia’ background. The London-based Financial Times said that these elections were the cleanest in the history of Taiwan. The China Post conducted a poll two days after the election and found that 70.1 per cent of those questioned considered that vote-buying had been greatly reduced, and were satisfied that the election was fair.

People are beginning to understand that it is not right to receive money for a vote nor to offer money for votes, Chen says.

Between 1992 and 1997, the Clean Election Campaign was in action at every election—national, city or local. Hundreds of teachers and university students volunteered for training for the campaigns, conducting public meetings, demonstrations and seminars. After 1997 the success of the Clean Election Campaign led to the setting up of an officially sponsored campaign against vote-buying and other forms of political corruption.

The campaign’s present Vice-Chairman, Buddhist Master Shihjingyao, is also a member of Taiwan’s Central Electoral Committee. Evaluating the campaign, he acknowledged that Ma had suffered a political backlash and been forced to step down. But, he went on, progress against vote-buying had continued over the years. ‘We now see that the current government is very serious about cracking down on mafia-style activities and money politics.’

Su Yin-Kuei, a member of the Legislature and supporter of the Clean Election Campaign, not only campaigned against vote-buying and money politics, but also has a track record in tackling corruption in the judiciary. As a lawyer in Kaohsiung, the second city of Taiwan, in 1991 he brought to public attention payments to judges by ‘mafia’ families. He told me in an interview that this practice was known among lawyers but not generally by the public. The payments were made to persuade a judge to reduce the sentence of a convicted criminal.
In 1995 Su went further and published the names of the judges in the Kaohsiung district receiving bribes and the amounts they received. He told me, ‘When I published this information I anticipated something would happen to me.’ Two weeks later, two men attacked him and left him for dead. Fortunately he survived.

Later the Kaohsiung Lawyers’ Association took up the campaign against corruption in the judiciary with Su as the coordinator. The Taipei Lawyers’ Association followed, and eventually the campaign went national. Judges with a bad record were transferred by the government to remote counties.

Su is a member of an unofficial inter-party parliamentary committee, known as the Sunshine Committee, which seeks to have three anti-corruption bills passed by the Legislature:

* a Political Donation Bill to ensure that all MPs declare any income besides their parliamentary salary;
* a Freedom of Information Bill, whereby the public can access government and public information;
* a Political Parties Donation Bill whereby political parties will need to declare their sources of income and how that income is used.

Meanwhile, Clean Election campaigns based on the Taiwanese model have been run in Brazil (1994); Kenya (see For A Change April/May 2003); in the first democratic elections in Sierra Leone since the civil war (2002); and in Ghana. A group of Africans from five countries is planning to launch a Clean Africa Campaign in 2004. It will be spearheaded by a travelling faculty to train potential leaders in honest and unselfish leadership.

Amina Dikedi, Nigerian IC worker and an initiator of this new campaign, wrote, ‘Experience shows that leadership which is not corrupt, but is unselfish and capable of reaching across historic divisions, receives an eager following. The Clean Africa Campaign aims to encourage and train such leadership throughout Africa. Working in partnership with churches, mosques and other like-minded groups, it will make use of the extensive network of Africans committed to moral change in their continent, and build on the experience of the Clean Election Campaign in Kenya.’

This article is based on extracts from Brian Lightowler’s new book, ‘Corruption: Who Cares?’, Caux Books (ISBN 2 88037 507 7) and Grosvenor Books, Australia (ISBN 0-9592622-4-5), 2003.
Brian Lightowler

Fact File
Cheng Kejie, former Vice Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress of China, was sentenced to death in July 2000 for soliciting and taking bribes totalling $4.9 million when he served as Chairman of the People’s Government.

The US spends $130 million a year on protection against money laundering and corruption in politics.
According to a recent poll 68 per cent of policemen in Bangladesh use bribes for routine procedures like recording complaints or filing first information reports, and 90 per cent of Bangladeshis say that it is almost impossible to get in touch with a policeman without money or influence.

The bond rating agency Standard & Poor’s say that an investor has an 80–100 per cent chance of losing any money he puts into corrupt countries.

The Independent Commission Against Corruption states that in Hong Kong in the year 2000 there were 43 pursuable reports of corrupt conduct and 288 pursuable reports of illegal conduct during the elections for the Legislative council.

A recent survey conducted by Ibope for Transparencia Brasil shows that six per cent of people were offered money for their votes in the Brazilian municipal elections in the year 2000. In the elections of 2002, the proportion had fallen to three per cent.

Sources: www.chinatoday.com, Colombia international affairs online, www.netbangladesh.com, www.rosbaltnews.com, www.icac.org, www.transparencia.org
Doug O’Kane

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