Election Season in Taiwan

I am in Taibei, part of a delegation sponsored by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to observe the Legislative Yuan elections that will take place tomorrow. We got out to two campaign rallies tonight, but before I post those let me provide a bit of background for those who have not been following the action thus far.

The entire legislature is up for election, under a new voting system. The number of seats have been cut in half and electoral constituencies have been simplified. Of the 113 total seats, 73 will be elected from single-member districts and 34 seats will be determined by each party’s proportion of the total national vote. A party must receive at least 5% of the vote to be eligible for seats. The final six seats are set aside for aboriginal people, who have a separate constituency.

In discussions with local election observers, it has been suggested that the new electoral system may have a moderating effect on legislative politics. The expectation is that the single member districts will demand that newly elected legislators work pragmatically for the interests of their districts. In order to deliver the goods for their people they will have to find ways of working with other legislators, even those of the other party. Under the old system, which had multiple-member districts and many more seats, more legislators were not directly beholden to district-level interests (they could win one of the multiple seats with a very small percentage of the district’s votes) and could hold on to entrenched ideological positions. That is the theory at least. If it is true the moderating effect that Andrew J. Nathan and Yun-han Chu have predicted may be more than simply an effect of changing voter preferences; it may also be encouraged by the new electoral system.

In any event, virtually everyone expects the KMT to come out of the election in a stronger legislative position. Predictions for the number of KMT seats run from 65-75. For the DPP, the “golden number” is 38: if they win fewer than that, the KMT will hold a two-thirds majority and be able to amend the constitution. On television last night, President Chen Shui-bian, leader of the DPP, was asking for votes to avoid precisely this outcome. I took this as a sign of weakness: if the DPP’s goal is to secure something just above one third of the seats, their internal polling must have them far from anything like a majority.

By 9:00 PM (Taibei time) or so tomorrow night we will know the outcome. In the meantime, some photos of tonight’s election rallies are below the fold:








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