Sun, Feb 03, 2008 - Page 8 News List

DPP wrong about electoral system

By Samantha Wu 吳珊珊

After losing last month's legislative elections, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has deplored the fact that it received less than one-fourth of the seats in the legislature, despite winning 38 percent of the votes.

President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) said this demonstrates the problem with the new electoral system. The DPP caucus has since said it would call for a constitutional interpretation of the new system.

The party seems to think that it didn't lose the elections because of ineffective governing, but rather because of problems with the drawing of district lines.

The DPP feels that the number of votes a party wins should be reflected in the number of seats it wins. Based on that idea, it argues that the new system violates the constitutional principle of electoral equality.

That conclusion is far-fetched.

In the 1962 US Supreme Court case of Baker v. Carr, the court ruled on Tennessee's electoral district system, which did not fairly represent the population. The state had refused to redraw district lines, which the court ruled was unconstitutional. The ruling protected the rights of voters, but did not require that Tennessee implement a system in which seats in the state assembly are handed out in direct proportion to the number of votes each party wins.

The US uses an electoral college for its presidential elections. In this system, each state has a certain number of electoral votes. Those votes are not split to reflect the votes cast by residents in that state, but rather are granted as a whole to one candidate. California, for example, has 55 electoral votes, and if a presidential candidate wins more than 50 percent of the votes in that state, that candidate receives all of California's 55 votes.

If the DPP's argument that such a system is unfair were correct, the US would already have abolished this system.

The DPP says that the amendment to the Constitution that says there should be a legislator for every county and city in Taiwan, so that small counties like Kinmen can have their own legislators, goes against the spirit of equality.

But in the US House of Representatives, all states are represented, large and small. Seats are allocated in proportion to the population of each state. Article 1, Section 2 of the US Constitution says that every state has the right to at least one seat in the House of Representatives. No one has ever questioned the fairness of this.

If the DPP is of the opinion that Kinmen and Matzu are too small too be represented in the legislature, then it wants voters on Taiwan proper to represent the interests of Kinmen and Matzu voters. Not everyone would say that's a good idea.

If we follow the DPP's argument, a system is only democratic if the number of votes a party obtains is reflected in the number of legislative seats the party gets.

But this is perhaps to misunderstand the meaning of democracy. Democracy means the public has the power to decide on matters of government. However, direct democracy is problematic in practice, which is why representative democracy was created, in which voters choose a representative to voice their interests when policies are made.

In the new legislature, the DPP is too small to request a constitutional interpretation. The party says this is against the principle of separation of powers.

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