Taiwan's first legislative elections under the new single-member district, two-vote system have produced a revamped legislature, with the number of seats cut by half from 225 to 113. As expected, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) won an absolute majority and the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) suffered significant losses.
With the two biggest parties holding almost all of the legislative seats, Taiwan is now firmly placed among countries with a two-party system.
In recent decades, a trend of electoral reform has swept the globe, with more than 30 countries choosing to combine a majority system with a proportional representation system to create a mixed electoral system.
In line with this trend, Taiwan has implemented a double ballot system similar to Japan's. Under this system, 30 percent of seats are elected through a party proportional system (the legislator-at-large seats, which have a 5 percent threshold), while the remaining 70 percent are elected by geographical district. These new structures therefore do not benefit minor parties.
The KMT is the main beneficiary of the new system. Many voters are dissatisfied with the government's performance over the past four years, and KMT candidates have tended to be better than DPP candidates at dealing with voters and handling grassroots issues. The KMT is also more adept at mobilizing voters.
This situation resembles that enjoyed by the Liberal Democratic Party in Japan after electoral reforms were introduced in 1996.
The KMT's legislative victory is also likely to build strong momentum for its presidential candidate, Ma Ying-jeou (
It is also worth noting that both referendums failed to pass the 50 percent threshold because of the KMT's campaign to boycott them at the end of the campaign period.
This result raises the question of whether the party will campaign against the two UN membership referendums to be held in tandem with the presidential election.
Vociferous calls for a boycott of these referendums are certain to emanate from the pan-blue camp -- the KMT will argue that the failure of the DPP-initiated referendum will ease tension in US-China-Taiwan relations -- while the DPP is certain to make its UN referendum the focus of Hsieh's campaign.
It can be assumed therefore that the referendums and the unification/independence issue will become the focus of political debate in Taiwan once more in the run-up to the presidential election.
Although the KMT and the DPP make up a large majority in the new legislature that meets for the first time on Feb. 1, this does not imply that the two parties will monopolize the legislative agenda.
Because the threshold for forming a legislative caucus has been changed to three legislative seats and every party caucus, regardless of size, will hold a veto over party negotiations, the Non-Partisan Solidarity Union, with its four seats, will have bargaining power with the two major parties.
The biggest difference between Taiwan's legislature and the parliaments in Western democracies is that although the KMT holds an absolute legislative majority, it will not be able to independently set the legislative agenda.
The legislative elections may be over, but it is the March 22 presidential election that will more powerfully determine Taiwan's political direction. With their emphasis on constituency interests and management of grassroots issues, the legislative elections are more a prelude to the face-off between the pan-green and pan-blue camps.
This is instead the beginning of the election campaign for the presidential election, and one that will be filled with rancor over the issues of independence/unification and ethnic identity.
Wang Yeh-lih is a professor of political science at Tunghai University. Translated by Perry Svensson
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