Tue, Nov 02, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Vote allocation distorting elections

The big topic surrounding the legislative elections isn't the question of independence or unification, and it has nothing to do with public policy. Instead it's the question of vote allocation by the political parties.

In order to ensure their candidates' chances in all of the constituencies, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has sought to unify votes in any given electoral district. This has had the effect of reducing the gap between the number of votes different party candidates get in one district. Consequently, it will have some impact on the number of seats the party can win. This strategy has been successful for the DPP in the past, and its example may be followed by the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU).

The pan-blue camp has also been tempted to follow suit. But People First Party (PFP) Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) has blasted the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) for not including PFP candidates as part of its own vote allocation system. As far as the KMT is concerned, the pan-blue parties have yet to merge, and considering that they're doing their best to deal with their own and the New Party's allocations, they are not in a position to look out for the PFP as well.

In any other electoral system, a political party would have its own electoral strategy, and the electorate would have their own considerations when choosing which candidate to support. The single nontransferable vote under a multi-member district system for legislative elections -- together with the added variable of the vote allocation system -- is unique to Taiwan. All the behind-the-scenes machinations of party politics, in which each camp uses the question of vote allocation to attack the other side, is confusing the true significance of the legislative elections.

The electorate have no way of knowing what the real policy issues are, or indeed what opinions individual candidates hold. All they can see is the political parties scoring points off each other.

The prerequisite for vote allocation is that voters have a strong adherence to a particular party and that this association transcends their association with any particular candidate. But the statistics of past legislative elections indicate that Taiwanese tend to recognize people rather than parties. Looked at in these terms, the use of vote allocation goes against the principle of selecting the wise and the good for elected office, and the freedom of the electorate to cast their vote as they see fit.

To use votes to the best effect, the parties have mobilized village and ward organizations and party loyalists to "transfer" votes to weaker contenders. They have even gone so far as to make use of "ghost populations" who simply transfer their household registration to necessary areas to reduce the effect of highly popular candidates sucking up all the votes.

This strategy of helping less popular candidates allows some unsuitable people to win through seat allocation, and in the elections, the quality of the candidates is extremely uneven. If some of these candidates manage to win through vote allocation, then the legislature is likely to become nothing more than a slaughterhouse where the benefits of power are carved up and divided.

It is even more unfortunate that given the imperative of winning a majority in the legislature, the opinions and policies of the various parties have been relegated to a secondary role. It is now too late to expect any of the parties to announce a brilliant list of candidates or to put forward a coherent political vision. As we watch the parties dividing up the votes, it looks little different to the "division of the spoils" that has been so much part of Taiwan's past.

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