Mon, Jan 14, 2008 - Page 8 News List

Can the DPP overcome a drubbing?

By Bruce Jacobs 家博

Saturday's legislative elections, in which the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) won less than one-fourth of the seats, were a disaster for the party and its worst result in legislative elections since Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) became president in 1988.

Saturday's results raise two important questions. First, why did the DPP do so badly? Second, how will the legislative elections result affect the presidential election of March 22?

There are at least three answers to the first question. The turnout of less than 59 percent -- the lowest for legislative elections since 1972 -- indicates widespread alienation among Taiwan's voters. The numbers attending campaign rallies were also quite low. In the past, when speakers at rallies rhetorically asked: "Right or Wrong?" the audience would shout "Right!" During this campaign no one responded. In addition, several vote captains -- on both sides of politics -- whom this writer has known for a long time, sat out this election.

A second factor explaining poor support for the DPP is that the DPP government has been blamed for everything. Admittedly, the government had a number of failures and sometimes the party did not explain its achievements. In addition, the government has been blamed even when it was not responsible. One friend told me that the DPP was responsible for high oil and gasoline prices. When I questioned this, suggesting that the cause was the high global price of oil, my friend replied: "Well, at least the government should have made me feel better."

Incumbents often incur the anger of the voters after a couple of terms in office. In Australia, last October we turned out the conservative Howard government after 11 years, and last month South Koreans voted for a conservative new president after 10 years of progressive presidents. Similarly, the Democrats won both houses of the US Congress in 2006 and a Democrat appears likely to replace the Republican President George W. Bush this November. So, at least part of the Chinese Nationalist Party's (KMT) success owes to a vote against the DPP as incumbents.

Third, many analysts (including this writer) argued that the single-member constituencies would create more moderate legislators as candidates would be forced to move to the center to gain sufficient votes. Thus, Li Ao (李敖), who gained a seat appealing to less than 6 percent of voters in his district under the old system, would not have gained a seat in the new legislature. But analysts ignored the role of the party primaries. Most of the candidates nominated by the KMT and the DPP had strong local organizations but often rather unsavory reputations. This, too, contributed to voter alienation and the low turnout.

In addition, both parties, but especially the KMT, nominated party "hacks" for their legislator-at-large lists. The most obvious case is the KMT's nomination of Chiu Yi (邱毅), who spent time in prison for literally attacking the Kaohsiung District Court with a truck. Chiu also has been known to promote "revelations" that almost always prove to have no factual basis. But the KMT nominated him because of his "personal sacrifice" for the party in going to prison.

In addition, in district races between a man and a woman, the KMT tended to give the district seat to the man and put the woman on the legislator-at-large list because half of party nominees for the latter had to be women.

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