Sun, Dec 05, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: It's `dump-save' time again

When fights and controversies over whether to "dump" or "save" certain candidates and whether to divide votes begin to take over the news headlines, everyone knows that the legislative election campaign has entered the final stretch. The candidates are going all out to get elected, even if that means sacrificing their comrades from the same parties. In times like this one cannot help but wonder "with friends like these, who need enemies?"

The so-called "dump-save" and vote allocation strategies are unique to Taiwan's political culture and have played significant roles in almost all of the past elections here. "Dump-save" means to instruct supporters in one camp or party not to vote for a candidate who is unlikely to get elected since he or she is trailing so far behind in the polls, and instead vote for a different candidate who does have a chance of getting elected. The point is to ensure that votes are not wasted on lost causes.

Whenever "dump-save" plans begin to surface, those who are far behind in the polls always panic, fearing that they will become a casualty of the proposal. Further complicating the matter is that the practice can be used across political parties in the same camp -- for example, across the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) in the pan-green camp, or across the Chinese Nationalist Party(KMT), People's First Party (PFP), and New Party in the pan blue camp.

Since the candidates getting dumped will usually become extremely upset, the plan must be carried out tactfully. The parties typically will not openly admit that they hope their supporters will practice a "dump-save" strategy. Instead, it generally begins with street rumors, passed on by anonymous sources, that it is about time to "dump-save." Pretty soon, everyone on the street knows who the intended victims are going to be. When the victims inevitably find out and raise a ruckus, the party headquarters will typically deny any plan. Therefore, any time there is such a denial from a party, one knows it is "dump-save" time again.

One can hardly understate the impact that "dump-save" strategies have had on critical elections in the past. As a matter of fact, the first ever change of ruling party in Taiwan could not have taken place in 2000 without a type of "dump-save" strategy. At the time, then incumbent vice president Lien Chan (連戰) was being "dumped" by the supporters of Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) on their own initiative in order to save Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and avoid the election of James Soong (宋楚瑜). As a result, the breakup of the relationship between Lee and Lien was aggravated.

As for vote allocation, that means to ask the voters to transfer some of their votes from candidates who are sure to win to less popular ones. Again, the goal is to ensure that the political parties win as many seats as possible. In contrast with "dump-save" strategies, political parties have openly called for vote allocation plans. In such cases, those leading in the popular polls will often resist, fearing that too many of their votes may be transferred to other candidates and that they could up losing the elections -- something that has actually happened before.

The reason that the above practices are possible in Taiwan is because voters will agree to cast their ballots based on party affiliation rather than the merits of the individual candidates. That in turn is because voters are extremely polarized in terms of supporting specific parties; there are virtually no moderate and undecided voters. But one cannot help but wonder: Aren't practices such as these fundamentally at odds with the spirit of democracy?

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