Books on Taiwan
Update No: 049 - (30/01/08)
THE ELECTIONS ANALYSED
As expected the Pan-Blue alliance dominated by the Kuomintang (KMT, or
Nationalist) Party won the country’s January 12th legislative election. While
a KMT win was expected, the extent of the victory—a landslide—took many by
surprise. Aided by a low voter turnout and a new first-past the post voting
system for the main legislative districts (instead of the previous proportional
representation system), the KMT now has 81 seats in the Legislature as compared
to 27 for its main rival, the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). The
KMT increased its majority handsomely. It now controls around 72 percent of all
parliamentary seats compared to 52 percent previously (under the new system, the
number of seats in the unicameral legislature has been reduced from 225 to 113).
The KMT won 61 district legislature seats compared to the DPP which won 15. The
Non-Partisan Solidarity Union (NPSU) came in third, with three seats, the People
First Party (PFP) claimed one of the six Aboriginal seats and an independent
candidate secured victory in Kinmen County.
The other parties—including the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) and the New
Party—fared poorly, with none of them reaching the 5 percent threshold
required to win a legislator-at-large seat. As a result these seats were
distributed proportionately between the two major parties which gave the final
tally of 81-27-5.
The Central Election Commission (CEC) said overall turnout for the district
legislative poll was 58.50 percent, or 10,050,619 voters. This was well below
previous turnouts. Both referendums held in conjunction with the poll failed to
attain the 50 percent turnout required for them to pass.
THE CORRUPTION PLEBISCITES FAIL
The DPP's plebiscite on recovering the KMT's stolen assets attracted 26.34
percent of voters, or 4,550,881 votes. It received a total of 3,891,179
The KMT-initiated referendum on empowering the legislature to investigate
corruption involving high-level government officials had a 26.08 percent
turnout, with 2,304,136 affirmative votes and 1,656,890 negative votes out of a
total of 4,505,927 ballots cast.
President Chen called the election loss the "worst setback" in the
history of the party and stepped down immediately as Chairman of the DPP taking
responsibility for the loss.
The DPP was certainly caught flat-footed and now has considerable work to do if
it is to have any chance at all at retaining governance by winning the March
presidential election. This will be a race between the KMT’s Ma Ying-jeou and
the DPPs Frank Hsieh. The ruling party cannot afford a single mistake. By
contrast, the KMT simply has to ride out the next two months and avoid doing
No single factor gave the KMT its huge win. Rather it was a combination of
factors. The new electoral system certainly favoured the KMT with its well-oiled
party machine which has left many puzzled as to why the DPP agreed to it in the
first place. It appeared to be a clear case of a shot in the foot. The change,
from the previous multiple-seat constituency to a single-member constituency,
made it much easier for pan-blue candidates to secure seats, a phenomenon borne
out in the 2005 elections for heads of local governments, where a similar
"winner takes all" voting model was used. Simple demographic analysis
of the electorates showed even before the election, that in a single-candidate
constituency, there were at least ten seats that the KMT simply could not lose.
In other areas, the KMT was favoured by the low turn-out rate among voters,
especially younger voters who have traditionally been supporters of the
government. According to local poll analysts, young people have become
disenchanted with the DPP and are frustrated by the constant politicking. But
while disenchanted and frustrated, at the same time they were not ready to throw
their weight behind the KMT. Instead they chose to stay at home.
Also absent from the election were the normal “swing” voters who in the past
have accounted for around 20 percent of the vote. Evidently, this group too,
chose to stay at home. It has been suggested that had voter turnout increased by
just 20 percent, then the election result could well have gone the other way. It
was DPP voters who boycotted the poll.
While the end result was devastating for the government in terms of the number
of seats it garnered in the legislature, in fact in terms of votes cast the DPP
won a slightly higher proportion of the popular vote than it did in the previous
legislative election—38 percent as compared to 36 percent. The KMT share of
the vote was 51 percent—the same as previously. The big losers were the
smaller parties that make up the two alliances—the pan-greens (dominated by
the DPP) and the pan-blues (KMT).
WHAT HAS BEEN LEARNED?
Lessons learned? There were a number, but whether they will save the DPP from
defeat in March remains to be seen. For one, Taiwan is developing a two-party
system. People have learned that casting a vote for one of the splinter parties
is a wasted vote. Secondly the negative tack taken by the DPP backfired.
Attempts to shift the focus away from the government’s economic performance
and onto the referendum on return on KMT party assets, was seen for the red
herring that it was. Yet surprisingly both the DPP and the KMT are persisting
with two further referendums around the presidential poll. These will be
different models for Taiwan seeking UN membership. Some lessons are hard to
The clearance in December last by Taiwan’s high court of corruption charges
against Ma Ying-jeou, defused that particular issue as a DPP weapon in its
campaign and yet similar allegations against senior DPP officials, including
President Chen Shui-bian have not gone away.
Finally there is President Chen’s maverick style that appears to have
disenchanted many. Instead of courting the swinging voters it has turned them
away in droves. That they chose to stay home rather than cast their vote with
the KMT is about as much good as the ruling party can salvage from the debacle.
Whether the huge win by the conservative forces will create a pendulum effect in
March is difficult to tell at this time. The smart money (and the hope of the
business sector) is that the KMT will also take the presidency. Can the
government do enough over the next two months to convince the “light greens”
as the swinging voters are apt to be called, to come out and cast their ballot?
The probability is that the twin issues of the state of the economy (which as we
have said previously is not doing all that badly but which is often compared
unfavourably to the halcyon days of the nineties), and voter disenchantment at
the political stalemates of the past eight years—a result of the
administration and the legislature being controlled by opposing camps—may well
mean that the DPP is well and truly back in opposition. It has little to offer
beyond more of the same.
While DPP presidential candidate, Frank Hsieh, a former Taipei City Mayor and
later premier, is considered to be more moderate that the acerbic, Chen
Shui-bian, he will still be constrained by his inability to implement a suitable
policy framework given the overwhelming dominance of the KMT in the legislature
which meets for the first time on February 1.
While both Hsieh and Ma profess a similar domestic agenda, a KMT win in March
would have significant implications for the relationship with China. Despite the
political rhetoric, economic ties between Taiwan and the mainland grow ever
closer. Taiwan remains the largest overseas investor in China and an estimated 4
percent of Taiwan’s population now live there, many working on joint ventures
and through direct investment. Under a KMT presidency and a KMT controlled
legislature we can expect—finally—to see movement on cross-straits economic
ties including allowing direct travel and postal links instead of the cumbersome
system that now operates whereby both mail and people have to travel via third
But while a KMT victory may take some of the heat out of the wordplay between
Taipei and Beijing, reunification between Taiwan and the mainland at the present
time is no more a part of Mr. Ma’s agenda than it is under Mr. Chen. The
difference may be semantic but it is important for reasons of ‘face’. Mr.
Chen and many of his DPP followers do not want reunification with China under
any circumstance (or rather integration with the PRC which as they state quite
correctly, Taiwan has never been a part of). By contrast, Mr. Ma would hold open
the possibility of unification at some future time once China has become a fully
functioning democracy. The practical result is the same. In this part of the
world, the way you say it is important.