Fri, Dec 03, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Campaigning reflects flawed system

By WangYeh-lih王業立

The legislative elections may be the last election in Taiwan -- and in the main democratic countries -- to adopt a single, non-transferable vote system with multi-member districts. As this rare election system is about to pass into history (although county and city councils in Taiwan seem set to continue using it), candidates are taking full advantage of its systemic peculiarities for the last time.

One characteristic of the multi-member district system that doesn't exist in other countries is the difficult nomination process which combines matching the right number of candidates nominated with the selection of the right candidates.

For political parties, the selection of suitable candidates is indeed an art form in itself. Nominating too many or too few candidates often means a reduction of the number of candidates elected. In the current campaign, parties must -- in addition to considering their own strength and making flexible adjustments in response to their competitors' nomination strategies -- consider joint nominations with friendly parties and party members, which certainly adds another level of difficulty to the whole exercise.

In addition, in any given district, parties may have to nominate several competing candidates with differing images and intellectual capacities, which makes "market segmentation" for the different candidates very important.

Another characteristic unique to the multi-member district system is the "allocation of votes." The "area-based vote allocation" frequently used by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) in the past and the "forced vote allocation" developed by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the New Party for the elections to the third legislature in 1995 are both necessary for the parties to maximize the number of seats won under the multi-member district system.

In single-member districts, the vote maximization that candidates strive for and the seat maximization that parties strive for do not conflict with each other; in multi-member districts they often do.

In this election campaign, both the blue and green camps are working extremely hard to win a legislative majority. They have now almost reached the stage where they are fighting for every single vote, and vote allocation is becoming more important than ever before. Whether voters like it or not, under this system, parties have no choice but to resort to vote allocation, and the party that does so successfully is frequently the winner.

Parties should remember, however, that forced vote allocation based on the month of birth or personal ID number isn't always an exact science. In many districts, it may be more effective to use area-based vote allocation.

Spontaneous vote allocation by many passionate voters has enriched Taiwan's unique vote allocation culture, while also making it more difficult to estimate the effects of vote allocation.

This unique multi-member district system has also endowed the legislative elections with systemic temptations such as internal strife and quarreling between members of the same party.

Particularly with the current clear division between the blue and green camps, candidates from both sides understand that their own "comrades" fighting for the same section of the voter base are one's biggest enemies, that they are the ones who will undermine one's own position, and that they are the ones who will adopt tactical voting and walk over dead bodies to get elected.

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