The recent special municipality elections marked the first time that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) received a greater share of the overall vote than the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) in a local election.
The elections also signaled a big change in the structure of the KMT’s support at both the national and local level. Although the KMT has always held an overall lead over the DPP, that lead was always higher the more local the elections were.
During the 1990s, the KMT generally won about 55 percent of the vote in county commissioner and mayoral elections, regardless of whether the elections took place in northern or southern Taiwan. In the direct municipality councilor elections, the KMT’s proportion of the vote increased to 60 percent, in county and city councilor elections it rose to 70 percent, while in borough and village chief elections the party received 80 percent of the vote.
In comparison, the DPP won less than 10 percent of borough and village chief seats, a number that increased gradually through the city and county councilor elections up to the direct municipality councilor elections, reaching about a third of all seats in the legislative elections and more than 40 percent of the county commissioner and mayoral seats during the 1990s. Then, finally, the party won more than 50 percent of the vote in the 2004 presidential election.
The DPP’s voter support structure is the result of restrictions implemented by the authoritarian KMT government. Under the authoritarian system, various grassroots organizations, political or not, and including local governments, civil servants, farmers’ or fishermen’s associations, labor unions and regular non-governmental organizations, were all strictly controlled by the KMT. In the KMT’s corporatist state, class contradictions were not very intense and the DPP found it difficult to develop at the grassroots level. The fundamental significance of the system of martial law that developed was that it prevented Taiwanese from participating in central government.
As the government treated society as its polar opposite, it is only natural that society was opposed to the state on such clearly national issues as martial law, the permanent legislature, the ban on new political parties and newspapers, and cultural discrimination.
Before democratization, an opposition movement called dangwai — “outside the party” — formed and members of this movement always received a higher proportion of both the vote and the number of seats in legislative by-elections, provincial councilor elections and county commissioner and mayoral elections than in county and city councilor elections, or, in particular, in township chief elections. The more local the election, the stronger the KMT’s monopoly.
Following democratization and the resulting social changes, the KMT’s ability to control the grassroots and various non-governmental organizations was drastically weakened and the recent elections were an almost total reversal at several levels.
In addition to the two parties’ even strength in the direct municipality mayoral elections, they also drew even in the county and city councilor elections, where they received a third each of the vote and 130 seats each. As for the most local of all elections, the borough and village chief elections, the KMT has in the past won 80 percent of the seats, but this time it didn’t even get a third.