Sat, Feb 03, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: A giant leap for Taiwanese politics

Taiwan's new electoral boundaries for legislative elections may have been implemented with the drawing of lots for key electorates, but this is no disgrace. If anything, the fact that Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) and Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) agreed to disagree on some boundaries and turned to chance to solve the problem is cause for celebration: As with the abolition of the National Assembly, this vitally important legislation will be stronger for its bipartisan production.

By making representatives solely responsible for a whole electorate, the legislative vote is pushed in a more accountable direction. Once able to sail into the legislature on the back of a minority of partisan and sometimes extremist voters, candidates in key electorates will need to appeal to the middle ground, which will surely expand with the introduction of this system.

This should force the main political parties to bankroll campaigns for individual candidates that are more relevant to the broader community. It will also force them to choose their candidates very carefully: Seats will now "swing" between candidates in the normal sense.

Also welcome is the likelihood that vote-buying will become much less viable as the threshold for election rises by tens of thousands of votes at the least.

The true blood sport will not be the elections themselves when they eventually roll around, but the competition within parties for the greatly reduced number of nominations in the interim. The potential for fractious squabbling within the pan-green and pan-blue camps is considerable, and could lead to ugly scenes and split votes courtesy of spurned candidates. Party discipline and merit-based selection of candidates will thus be more critical then ever.

As the spoils diminish, we will also witness the biggest migration of politicians since the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) fled to Taiwan. In this case, the migration involves not a dash across the Taiwan Strait in a commandeered aircraft, but setting up house in a new county or township where candidate prospects are rosier.

That said, and despite rumblings from party headquarters, the KMT has reason to be happy with the new system. It will likely win the 10 electorates with dramatically lower legislator-to-voter ratios: Taitung County, the six Aboriginal electorates -- which traditionally are fiercely pro-blue -- as well as the island counties of Penghu, Kinmen and Lienchiang. With a legislator each, these electorates are dramatically over-represented in proportional terms at the expense of Yunlin County, Tainan City, Keelung City, Ilan County, Hsinchu City and Hsinchu County, each of which has many more voters but has had representation reduced by two-thirds.

This advantage suggests that the Democratic Progressive Party will finally need to start taking the political needs of remote and Aboriginal voters seriously and determine what will make them change their vote.

Legislative elections are in uncharted territory. The forces that formerly determined electoral success, such as local factions, must revamp their strategies. It is possible to vote for one party locally and another nationally, which provides a little compensation for the minor parties, who will be obliged to put key candidates in the legislator-at-large race rather than have them crucified in local electorates. It promises to be a compelling process of adaptation.

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