Sun, Jan 13, 2008 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Seventy days to turn things around

The results of the first elections under the new single-member district, two-vote system grant the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) new legislative powers that should unnerve advocates of Taiwanese democracy.

A combination of structural change, poor campaign strategy by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and growing dissatisfaction from voters in nominally safe DPP seats killed the party's hopes to protect the legislature from a two-thirds majority for the KMT.

The remaining two months of President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) term will be encumbered by a legislature that will be even more hostile to him, and this may have a powerful effect on the electability of DPP presidential candidate Frank Hsieh (謝長廷).

Changes to the electoral system did not benefit the DPP at all, instead proving a boon to the KMT with its superior organizational skills on the ground.

The interesting thing is that the DPP achieved a higher proportion of the district vote (38.17 percent) than in legislative elections four years ago, when it received 35.7 percent of the vote. Its party proportional vote was also marginally higher -- at 36.91 percent. The main reasons for the KMT's landslide victory are instead the distributive nature of the new system and how it forced KMT-aligned local factions to cooperate with one another.

Even so, the DPP's primaries were flawed, leading to an inability to appoint appropriate and able candidates. It failed to take into account changes in the single-member system, such as this: To be elected, a candidate is now required to win a much larger number of votes -- effectively 50 percent in many cases -- rather than a larger minority of votes.

The tradition that the party chairman should lead the campaign and mobilize support meant that DPP candidates could not be heard as individuals in their constituencies. Add to this the fact that DPP candidates do not have the same grassroots networks as KMT candidates, and the result was several capable candidates losing by small margins.

With Chen's resignation as DPP chairman, the party is now set for an ugly post mortem as Premier Chang Chun-hsiung (張俊雄) prepares to dissolve the Cabinet ahead of the new legislature. Both acts will initiate major political change, but finding successors for Chen, Chang and others will be a problem in the current environment, with DPP morale set to plumb new depths. This will not contribute to stable government and may have an impact on the DPP's presidential election prospects.

After winning the 2000 presidential election, the DPP was doing reasonably well in the face of an increasingly hostile legislature, until things took a turn for the worse with its avoidable 2004 legislative election loss, ensuring that the KMT would have the space and time to recover confidence after the inept leadership of chairman Lien Chan (連戰). The result of yesterday's elections highlights this recovery and raises the question of whether the DPP can mount a viable presidential campaign. The only way the DPP can do this is respond quickly to the needs of the 13 percent of voters who voted for Chen in 2004 but abandoned the party yesterday.

The next 70 days will show if Hsieh is able to invoke the much-vaunted "pendulum effect" and save the DPP -- and Taiwan -- from a situation in which a party that privileges power and cynicism over democracy and propriety has complete control of the legislature and the executive.

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