An article in Foreign Policy recently included Taiwan in a list of countries whose legislatures don’t work. The People First Party (PFP) is now officially entering the legislative elections and PFP Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) has announced that he wants to start a second “Quiet Revolution” that would reform the government and the legislature.
Whether or not this happens will be decided by voters. However, regardless of what does happen, the only thing left for the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the PFP is to battle it out. Soong has burned all his bridges and as he as nothing to lose, it is only a matter of time before he runs for president. Although the cleft between the two parties is still not a firm split, their mixture of talks and attacks won’t last long.
The adoption of a single-member district, double ballot system in the 2008 legislative elections was a watershed in Taiwanese party politics. Experts criticized the system, saying it meant that the winner would take all, making it difficult for smaller parties to survive. However, it could also give smaller parties more opportunities and more clout to attack the bigger parties.
In other words, small parties would be able to create problems for big ones, so it would all depend on whether the big parties could show some good will toward the smaller. For next year’s legislative elections, for example, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) are cooperating, and the TSU has agreed to only seek legislator-at-large seats. However, the KMT is constantly quarreling with the PFP and the New Party over party autonomy issues, despite KMT claims that they are on friendly terms, and will only let the smaller parties field candidates in districts where it does not expect to do well.
In the past few elections, neither the KMT, DPP or the PFP have mustered a legislative majority, but in the 2008 legislative elections, the KMT, including the PFP and the New Party, gained 81 of the 113 seats, while the DPP won only 27 seats, giving the KMT the “total power” it was aiming for. The legislative chaos continued, mainly because of the parties’ selfishness and the constant battles between the pan-blue and pan-green camps, as well as the uneven quality of legislators.
Now the PFP suggests that a legislature where none of the three biggest parties reach an absolute majority is what we need. To win enough votes to be able to promote legislative reform, the PFP will need new ideas. If all the party wants is three legislators to be able to organize a legislative party caucus or if they fail to secure as many seats proportionally as they won in the 2001 legislative elections — when they gained 46 seats against the DPP’s 87, the KMT’s 68, the TSU’s 13 and independent candidates’ 11 seats — they will be in trouble. If they don’t get at least 10 seats, they will not be strong enough.
The situation in the past was very different and some political scientists are already predicting that electoral alliances and coalition governments will become unavoidable.
It’s no longer a matter of whether or not we want it, but one of timing and finding the right partner. If the government or the opposition lacks a grasp of the overall situation, they will not be able to keep up with changes and will fall behind.