Political Influences on Vote-Buying Verdicts in Taiwan: Perspectives and Evaluations from Legal Experts
In the trajectory of Taiwan’s democratization, the judicial system has long been entangled in the political conflict, and the general public does not seem to trust the judiciary to be independent of political influences. Some folk sayings about the courts reveal the negative stereotypes of vote-buying verdicts; for example, “the courts are dominated by the Kuomintang;” “at the first trial a heavy sentence is passed, at the second trial the sentence is halved, and at the third trial the case is quashed;” “those with good social connections won’t have any problem, but those without connections will have big trouble;” and, “those elected will be let off, but those losing the elections will be imprisoned.” This study investigates the impacts of political factors (including partisanship, judicial procedure, sociopolitical connections, and whether a defendant is elected or not) on three levels of court decisions on vote-buying litigation. In a departure from quantitative analyses in the preceding literature, this research employs a qualitative method. The methodology adopted in this study involves two steps. The first approach involves the use of documentary analyses; we intentionally select eight salient vote-buying cases, and review their court verdicts and news reports in order to inquire whether or not the judiciary is politically biased in its judgments. The second method employs face-to-face intensive interviews with eight legal experts (including three lawyers, one judge, three law professors, and one senior legal journalist), and asks the respondents questions designed to evaluate the political influences on vote-buying lawsuits and to assess this negative public impression of judicial verdicts. Contrary to expectations, the interview findings reveal that the effects of political factors have considerably less of an influence than expected on court decisions. In the conclusion, the key findings are reviewed, and suggestions regarding judicial politics are made for future research.