Three weeks ago, with the assistance of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), independent candidate Kang Shih-ju (康世儒) defeated Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) candidate Chen Luan-ying (陳鑾英) in the legislative by-election in Miaoli County.
However, KMT candidate Chiang Nai-hsin (蔣乃辛) was still able to secure the legislative seat in the by-election in Taipei City’s Da-an District on March 28 by defeating DPP candidate Chou Po-ya (周柏雅), independent candidate Yao Li-ming (姚立明), who was endorsed by the New Party and the Home Party, and four other candidates. The fact that the KMT captured less than 50 percent of the vote, however, could be seen as a vote of no confidence in President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and the KMT.
The reason Chiang won the by-election was not that voters supported the government’s performance but because the KMT successfully engineered “strategic voting.” Thus, the KMT should not be too pleased as it only secured its core support at best. More important, we should focus on what impact the results of these two legislative by-elections will have on the political status of the KMT leadership, elite and power structure, as well as the next election.
First of all, Ma’s move to stump for Chiang was an attempt to manipulate strategic voting in the pan-blue camp to increase the KMT’s chances of winning the election. Although Chiang was elected, the drop in votes indicates that Ma’s political clout is rapidly waning and that his ability to swing votes has diminished. On the contrary, those who used to support the KMT also wanted to use the by-elections to warn the Ma administration, which has repeatedly failed to carry out Ma’s campaign promises.
Since the DPP lost the legislative by-election and only managed to maintain its core pan-green supporter base, DPP Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) will probably not gain the full support of the pan-green camp even if she retains her post. This could level the status between her and DPP bigwigs such as Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) and Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) and create challenges to her authority within the party. But does Tsai have the ability or strategies to increase the pan-green vote? In particular, how will she clear the shadow of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) hanging over the party and lead it to a comeback? These are questions Tsai must consider.
Secondly, the KMT could not afford to lose the Da-an by-election if it wanted to avoid an internal clash. Luckily for the KMT, it secured the seat in this traditional pan-blue stronghold and KMT Chairman Wu Poh-hsiung (吳伯雄) thus kept his throne. Premier Liu Chao-shiuan (劉兆玄) is an indirect beneficiary of the election win because for the time being he can avoid taking political responsibility for the Cabinet’s performance. However, the generational change in the KMT may hit a roadblock that will revive the impression that the KMT is a gerontocracy.
Finally, the third force of smaller parties indeed has had little influence on the current political scene, especially under the single member district plurality system, as can be seen from the number of votes Yao and Green Party candidate Calvin Wen (溫炳原) received in the by-election. In light of this, the future development of the DPP will partly hinge on how it integrates with the third force to counteract the dominance of the KMT. This has become a task for both the DPP and the third force.