Tue, Feb 06, 2007 - Page 8 News List

DPP needs to rethink its primary poll system

By Shen Fu-hsiung 沈富雄

A group of Democratic Progres-sive Party (DPP) legislators has proposed a mechanism to exclude pan-blue respondents from participating in the opinion polls that the party will use to choose candidates in its primaries. Anyone who did not vote for a DPP or Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) candidate in the last presidential, local or legislative election would be disqualified from taking part in the opinion poll.

This "blue exclusion clause" is being fiercely debated within the party. Some lawmakers are claiming that the proposal is tailor-made for certain legislators.

The proposal's author, Legislator Wang Shih-cheng (王世堅), isn't backing down. He has threatened to leave the party if it fails to adopt the proposal.

But the proposal's backers and its opponents have so far failed to discuss it in a constructive fashion. Their positions are largely based on whether the proposal will help or harm their chances of being nominated.

The entire debate is a striking example of the anxiety being caused by the new single seat district system that will come into effect with the next legislative elections in December.

The proponents believe that pan-blue voters will distort the DPP's primaries and thus the DPP's nominations. The only case they have cited, however, is my own.

Before the 2005 legislative elections, then DPP legislator Tuan Yi-kang (段宜康) and I received a combined 74 percent approval rating in the primary polls but then lost in the actual election.

The three winning DPP candidates in Taipei City South had received a combined approval rating of just 16 percent in the same poll.

Candidates who lead in the polls will always come out and plead for support in the final days of a campaign because they are worried they will lose the election.

This phenomenon -- leading in opinion polls but losing the election -- is caused by Taiwan's multi-seat districts. Voters in these districts vote based on their calculations of who needs their vote the most. This is why polls do not accurately predict the winners of legislative elections.

Tuan and I lost because candidates with high ratings in the polls get attacked not just by opposition candidates, but also by candidates from their own party. I was the victim of an unprecedented smear campaign that cost me votes.

The DPP's first primaries for legislative candidates took place in 1992. The system started off as a simple vote but later evaluations by party leaders and opinion polls were added.

When the DPP first used opinion polls, the polling results received a weighting of 50 percent. Later this was raised to 70 percent. Party members votes now count for just 30 percent.

This evolution demonstrates the increasing importance of polls in DPP primaries not only because they are trusted, but also because they reflect the will of the people.

In contrast, direct voting in primaries has become less important because it has been plagued by scandal and has resulted in candidates without strong voter appeal.

The last DPP primary for legislators-at-large can serve as an example. Party members voted for a slate of at-large candidates headed up by Hsueh Ling (薛凌), Chiu Yung-jen (邱永仁), Tsai Huang-liang (蔡煌瑯) and 10 others.

The primary opinion polls ranked Hong Chi-chang (洪奇昌), Tsai and Lin Cho-shui (林濁水) ahead of the other 10 in terms of voter approval.

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