Taiwan 2012 Elections One Year On

Last year, on 14 January 2012, combined legislative and presidential elections took place in Taiwan. Incumbent candidate Ma Ying-jeou defeated opposition challenger Tsai Ing-wen and Kuomintang retained majority in Legislative Yuan, however, opposition camp consisting of Democratic Progressive Party and Taiwan Solidarity Union recovered from crushing defeat in 2008 and significantly strengthened its presence in legislature. Following is selection of my articles for University of Nottingham’s blog Ballots & Bullets that dedicated special section on Taiwan 2012 elections.

The 8th Legislative Yuan and the blue-green divide

Published: 17 January 2012

The joint presidential and legislative elections in Taiwan are over and it is time to sum up the results. Without doubt, there will be plenty of opinions why the result turned out the way it did. The presidential election seemed to have overshadowed the legislative ones in terms of visibility, but the legislative elections were equally important. As Dafydd Fell pointed out in November, the legislative elections were neglected, especially in media, but as the Chen Shui-bian era showed, having a presidency “besieged” by a Blue-dominated legislature was no big gain. The discontent with the DPP that resulted in resounding defeat in 2008 can be partly attributed to administrative inefficiency while perceptions of DPP’s presidency as corrupt helped the KMT avoid its share of responsibility. In the light of this experience, it is surprising that the DPP did not put more effort in to trying to secure a legislative majority. A Ma Ying-jeou checked by DPP-dominated legislature would have been a better outcome for the DPP than Tsai Ing-wen as president with a “hostile” KMT legislative majority.

There are few basic facts about the elections: the KMT won and the DPP lost. The KMT performed worse than in 2008 but that was generally expected. The DPP performed far better than in 2008 (and that was generally expected too), but not well enough to secure the presidency and/or legislative majority. The People First Party (PFP) was very near to total failure in its pursuit of some seats in the Legislative Yuan, while scoring only slightly over the 5% threshold on legislators-at-large list (PR district) that secured them 2 seats (in addition to 1 seat in districts). However, what has been largely left unnoticed is the surprisingly good performance of the Taiwan Solidarity Union  (TSU), with support for the nationwide party list reaching almost 10%.

Support for respective political parties on legislators-at-large list serves as an important indicator for the real party preference in Taiwan’s society. The first reason is that single nationwide district that is big enough (34 seats in this case) generally produces fairly proportional results even if there is an entry threshold, which in Taiwan is 5% of votes, provided that not too many votes are “wasted” below the threshold. According to the CEC, this was the case for only slightly more than 6% of votes. The second reason is that single-mandate (FPTP) districts, through which 73 (or 2/3 of total LY seats) legislators are elected, typically produces significant disproportion and so they did this time, although to a lesser extent than in 2008. Additionally, smaller parties, including PFP and TSU, did not compete in single-mandate districts on large scale because of their slim chances of getting elected. The PFP did field a few candidates, but failed, and their only seat from districts is 1 of the 6 reserved for aborigines that are selected under the old SNTV system. The following table offers a breakdown of the legislators-at-large results.

Article continues here.

The limits of observing elections in Taiwan

Published: 12 January 2012

Joint presidential and legislative elections are coming in just few days which means that besides culminating election campaign different groups of observers started to pour in Taiwan. It would be difficult to estimate how many of them will be in Taiwan because there is no central coordination and therefore some observers were invited by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), some by local NGOs and some come on their own.

A Conservative estimate would be several hundred. MOFA claims that in 2008 altogether 290 observers from 38 countries came during presidential elections, although it is not clear to what extent it takes various groups that were not invited by MOFA. Yet, election observation missions in Taiwan are far from those conducted by organizations such as OSCE and due to serious limitations they have very restricted if zero ability to actually asses regularity of elections.

The first burden is a legal one. The Taiwanese legal system does not recognize election observations and thus all observers have no rights to access polling stations in order to be able to monitor the election process. Moreover, foreigners as such are forbidden to come closer to election ballot than 30 meters. However, on the ground it depends much on the police officer whether observers are given access to premises. Considering that polling stations are often in schools, the 30m limit can be in reality much bigger. If lucky, observers can get to windows and observe the voting procedure from outside. That surely is not exactly what could be considered as serious election monitoring.

The second burden concerns capacities to observe election process both domestic and international. On the basic level, observers lack of sufficient training and orientation in peculiarities of Taiwan’s election rules. That significantly decreases already limited ability to observe irregularities or serious violations of the election process. From a domestic perspective, there is no institution or NGO that would provide observation training, organizations such as Citizen Congress Watch (CCW) or Taiwan Front for Human Rights in Election (TFHRE) deal with pre- and post-election period (raising level of policy debate, conducting performance assessment of legislators etc.). As far as international observers are concerned, Taiwanese organizations prefer to invite well-known experts and current or former politicians in order to attract the attention of local and international media. Yet, academic expertise does not automatically imply good observation skills. At the end of the day, it depends on the observers’ individual experiences with election monitoring whether particular mission has sufficient expertise in election monitoring or not.

Article continues here.

Legislative campaigning in Kaohsiung: A view from the 7th district

Published: 21 December 2011

Taipei and Kaohsiung are not only first and second biggest cities in Taiwan respectively divided by Tropic of Cancer that cuts Taiwan in half and making both places feel like they are located on two distant continents. These two cities also represent the geographic division of  the Taiwanese political landscape. North is blue, South is green, people say in Taiwan when they talk about the political basics. Although there is a great deal of oversimplification in that, it is to a considerable extent true that Taipei stands firmly as KMT stronghold while Kaohsiung is a safe haven for DPP. To a considerable extent, not absolutely though. In 2008, the KMT was extraordinarily successful and secured 6 mandates in Legislative Yuan (LY) elections out of 9 in the area that now constitutes Greater Kaohsiung. In 2008 presidential elections Kaohsiung County still supported DPP candidate Frank Hsieh but Kaohsiung City voted for Ma Ying-jeou.

The setting for 2012 is clear: is DPP about to reclaim Kaohsiung and how does the KMT plan to defend its gains deep inside “hostile” territory? This was my first question for representatives of both major competitors. The second addressed the influence of parallel presidential and legislative elections on campaign strategy. The third was about specific campaign issues related to Kaohsiung and the fourth question challenged both representatives to answer why should voters cast a ballot for their party.

The following text is a brief summary of both interviews. It needs to be noted positively that unexpected visit of a foreigner curious about election campaign was in both cases met with somebody willing to take questions. I can imagine completely different situation in the Czech Republic where I come from. Yet, it needs to be also said that if openness was to be measured, then the DPP scored considerably higher, with district office campaign director Gary Lin willing to take additional questions and going a little more beyond more or less official campaign proclamations.

The KMT legislative candidate in Kaohsiung 7th district is incumbent legislator Chiu Yi (邱毅), known for his close relations with the media and frequent use of legal charges against political opponents. I met and interviewed his office assistant Mr. Ching-Wei Huang and a campaign volunteer who did not reveal his identity. Chiu’s DPP challenger is Chao Tien-lin (趙天麟), former magistrate councilor with considerably lower profile (for good or bad) compared to Chiu Yi. As noted above, Mr. Gary Lin who is head of the Chao’s election office answered the questions.

Article continues here.

Implications of the 2010 Municipal Elections for the 2012 Legislative Elections

Published: 18 November 2011

Political scientists have at least three reasons to eagerly look forward to the 2012 presidential and legislative elections in Taiwan. Firstly, it will be the second time under the new electoral system, wherein the Legislative Yuan (LY)  has move from the Single Non-Transferable Vote-centered (SNTV) system to a mixed one with the majority of deputies elected through single mandate FPTP districts (73 out of 113, or 65%). It will be interesting what lessons the parties have learned from previous elections, if any at all. Secondly, for the very first time both major elections will take place on the same day. Thirdly, elections in Taiwan draw a lot of excitement in any case.

This post offers a few observations from the 2010 municipal elections (with emphasis on mayoral elections) and their implications for the forthcoming legislative elections. The significance of municipal elections in 2010 stems from the high voter turnout. In total, more than 7.5 million people (turnout exceeded 70% in all 5 districts) cast their votes in 4 newly formed special municipalities (New Taipei City, Greater Taichung, Greater Tainan and Greater Kaohsiung) and in Taipei City. This is an impressive number considering that the turnout for 2008 presidential elections was 13.2 million people (76.3% turnout) and 10 million for the 2008 legislative elections (turnout slightly over 58%).

Results in 2010 appear at first sight to reveal a Kuomintang (KMT) win. If looked at as a football match then victory was narrow, KMT defeating the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) 3:2. Yet, a more detailed look shows that the KMT camp had no reason to be overly excited. On a city council election level the match was tied since both big parties gained 130 seats.  However, in council elections representatives of smaller parties and independents usually score better than on the national level as the current electoral system to LY is massively disadvantageous for small parties. This makes these results less relevant compared to mayoral elections that were to a large extent 2-party business and one can reasonably predict that it is what LY elections will look like.

Article continues here.

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