Fri, Dec 17, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Voters afflicted by 'election fatigue'

By Ku Chung-hwa顧忠華

The 59.16 percent turnout rate of the legislative elections marked a new low in Taiwan's electoral history. Many voters may have contracted "election fatigue," so that no matter how hard the pan-blue and the pan-green camps tried to motivate them using sensational rhetoric, they could not increase the level of interest.

Now that the elections are over, all candidates, both winners and losers, should not forget this lesson. They should not let this instance of "election fatigue" deteriorate into "democracy fatigue," exacerbating the public's existing political apathy. In the long run, this indifference could become an incurable disorder, and then it will be too late to seek a cure.

Compared with the previous legislative elections, why was this election so lackluster and the campaign so chaotic that the candidates failed to stand out? The main reason may be that party leaders from both camps focused on sensitive issues carried over from the presidential election; it simply became overtime for the presidential election.

As such, the legislative candidates had little opportunity to express their political opinions and personal qualities. Ultimately, due to the failure of the vote-allocation strategy, it all came down to sympathy votes for underdog candidates.

The worst aspect of vote-allocation is the high level of uncertainty that comes with it. Apart from passively following the instructions of the party on how to vote, voters are often influenced by the call to "save" certain candidates. In this election, votes were concentrated on underdog candidates, so that they won with huge margins, while candidates that had been high in the polls failed to get elected.

Because of the multi-member district system, vote-allocation has been a part of every legislative election. In the last one it was the blue camp that suffered, but this time it was the green camp.

Several election commentators say the pan-green camp nominated too many candidates without the ability to attract more voters. As a result of its failed vote-allocation strategy, the green camp, in certain districts, lost seats it should have won. As as result, the dream of having a legislative majority failed to come true.

Looking back on the election, we can see that apart from a small number of issues, such as the arms procurement budget and subsidies for the elderly -- which can be considered public policy issues -- the tendency was for campaigns to focus on "high-level" or conceptual issues that had nothing to do with people's daily lives.

This battle around conceptual issues, included the matter of changing Taiwan's name and constitutional reform, which, while not unimportant, tended to lead voters to believe that the election had little to do with them directly.

There was also a segment of the electorate that had simply become fed up with the endless political rhetoric and believed that whoever won a majority, the legislature would remain equally chaotic. This segment, therefore, simply couldn't be bothered to vote.

It appeared that the green camp's goal of achieving a clear majority in the legislature had little to do with actually improving the lives of ordinary people. Even though President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) announced "five guarantees" and "10 priority legislative bills" the day before the poll as a means of catering to bread-and-butter concerns, it was done too late to change the dynamics of the election and had little effect on undecided voters.

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