Fri, Jan 15, 2010 - Page 8 News List

Single-member system a DPP boon

By Lin Cho-shui 林濁水

Pan-green voters traditionally outnumber pan-blue voters in coastal parts of Taoyuan County, so the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) victory there in last Saturday’s legislative by-election marks a return to the normal state of affairs.

Taitung County and Taichung County’s Dali City (大里) and Taiping Township (太平), on the other hand, have traditionally been pan-blue territory, with close ties between candidates and powerful local factions. The Yu (余) family in Taichung is so influential that Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) had to go there to pay his respects during his presidential election campaigns.

After the DPP’s Chien Chao-tung (簡肇棟) lost two elections in Taiping Township, there didn’t seem to be much hope for him. Thinking that under the single-member electoral district system that was introduced in 2008 local factions would decide everything, Chien was inclined to quit campaigning. It was only after the DPP won September’s legislative by-election in Yunlin that the party overcame its excessive anxiety about the single-member system.

Last weekend’s results prove what was shown by the Yunlin by-election. Contrary to what most people think, in the single-member district system, the central government’s successes and failures will be more ­important than local factions’ influence. Unexpectedly, the single-member system turns out to be the very thing that can break local faction control. Halving the number of seats in the Legislative Yuan was strongly advantageous to the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) in outlying islands and Aboriginal areas because of the small number of votes required to elect members for those traditionally pro-KMT constituencies. This was one of the reasons why the DPP share of legislative seats hit a historic low at the last nationwide election, and it looked as though the party would stay in the minority for a long time. In the future, however, the single-member system may, on the contrary, work in the DPP’s favor.

Just before the Constitution was amended, then-DPP chairman Chen Shui-bian, presiding over his party’s Central Standing Committee (CSC), decided that at least one of four proposed amendments to the legislature must be passed, and the change he wanted was a measure halving the number of seats. Chen ordered that any DPP legislator who acted contrary to this policy would face severe disciplinary action. At the time, I insisted that I would prefer to vote “no” if it was proposed that the number of seats be halved without any complementary measures. Former DPP chairman Lin I-hsiung (林義雄) strongly disagreed with my position. Lin, leader of the Nuke-4 Referendum Initiative Association (核四公投促進會), visited the DPP headquarters and called for me to be expelled from the party. After listening to my explanation, however, CSC member Ker Chien-ming (柯建銘) took it upon himself to delete the part about passing at least one reform from Chen’s directive, inserting instead the demand that none of the four proposed amendments be omitted.

In theory, a single-member district system enables voters to make sure that their elected representatives carry out their political duties, giving legislators no room to shirk their responsibilities. Multi-party constituencies, on the other hand, preserve the mechanisms by which local factions share power among themselves. This has already been proven by the example of Japan, where a similar change led to the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) losing power despite its very solid local base.

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