By Chiou Tian-juh 邱天助
The proposal of former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairman Shih Ming-te (施明德) that the nation adopt a “negative voting” system has been met with mixed reactions.
Some commentators have said that it could increase voter turnout, decrease the number of extremist politicians and help break the political deadlock between the pan-blue and pan-green camps.
Those who are opposed to the suggestion say that it would result in chaos, incite hatred and strengthen political opposition, and that it might be unconstitutional.
I, on the other hand, am looking forward to it.
For many years now, Taiwanese democracy has seen a series of vicious political power struggles. In order to make headlines and ignite supporters, some politicians often resort to extreme, biased and inflammatory language and actions, filling society with contradictions, opposition and hatred, tearing the nation apart and obstructing social progress. People even act against their consciences and drag society moral and civil predicaments.
However, results from past elections show that because there is no power to counterbalance such behavior, people who act this way usually benefit politically, whereas the good-tempered and well-intentioned politicians rarely have the chance to get ahead. Therefore, even calls to transcend partisanship are but a means to make up for a lack of competence and a moral void, or a defense for a lack of political principles or beliefs.
Elections are fundamental to maintaining democracy. People generally expect that those who are best suited for the positions are the ones who will be elected. This means that candidates should have high standards of competence and ethical values.
Nowadays, some politicians think that they are backed up by loyal supporters who they can count on, so they are free to intimidate and appropriate as they see fit without anyone being able to do anything about it. We must be aware that if conscience is removed from politics, even a group of ill-intentioned people would be able to build a nation.
The design of the democratic system gives one vote per person at an election, with each vote carrying equal weight. The current system only allows supporters the right to vote for a candidate, while opponents must resort to passively choosing not to vote or to cast a spoiled vote, or even vote against their own will.
Such design limits civil participation in political affairs, and this is not what true democracy is about. Not giving the opponents the chance to vote against someone they deem as inappropriate for the job runs counter to the essence of democracy and liberty.
Unlike the current voting system, a negative voting mechanism would place options both to approve and disapprove of each candidate on the ballot. A voter would be able to choose to use their vote to pick a candidate that they support, or to vote against a candidate that they disapprove of.
The final ballot count would be the result of approval votes with the number of disapproval votes for each candidate subtracted. The number of net approval votes would determine which candidate is elected.
On Sept. 27, 2013, India’s Supreme Court ratified a negative voting system, making India the 14th state that allows voters to cast negative votes in an election after France, Belgium, Brazil, Greece, Ukraine, Chile, Bangladesh, Finland, Columbia, Spain, Sweden, Canada and the US state of Nevada.
Negative voting forces political parties to take candidates’ reputations account when they nominate them, freeing political parties from possible extortion by extremists. It could even heighten conscience awareness in politicians, who could learn to represent the public from its perspective, and how to address conflicting interests, fight for what is right with reason while at the same time respecting the views of others.
Those who are only skilled in malicious criticism and verbal abuse, even with the support of a certain party, would only attract more people to oppose them, forcing them to abstract themselves from little cliques of people working only for their own self-interest. As a result, politics would stop being a meeting-house of, and a haven for, discrimination and prejudice.
In the context of modern morals and politics, personal choice and the freedom to choose are the most visible ideals and goals.
Negative voting is a Copernican revolution in democracy, in that it changes the essence of representative politics, letting people speak up about what is truly on their minds, giving them the right and a chance to say no, reshaping the form and content of politics and promoting a social conscience.
Chiou Tian-juh is a professor of social psychology at Shih Hsin University.
Translated by Ethan Zhan