Power is a perennial theme in political science and, according to a common saying, “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” It was because of the vices of absolute monarchy, which concentrates the executive, legislative and judicial powers in one person, that the French political thinker Montesquieu proposed the division of government into three separate branches. This influenced the formation of the US system of government and handed executive power to the president, legislative power to Congress and judicial power to an independent judiciary.
In Taiwan, the system used by the central government is unsound, with several features in discord with fundamental principles of political science.
For example, presidential elections are currently decided by a plurality, or relative majority, with the result that former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) won his first election in 2000 with 39.3 percent of the vote. This was one of the reasons for the ensuing political instability.
This year, the race between Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and People First Party (PFP) Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) might produce another “minority president,” which could result in political instability caused by complaints of perceived injustices.
When the Constitution was being amended in 1997, I did everything in my power to oppose the plurality system and promote a majority system, but could not overcome the power of the politicians in the DPP. If our country, like France, had a majority system, it wouldn’t matter if Ma, Soong or even New Party Chairman Yok Mu-ming (郁慕明) were to run for president, because if none of them gained a majority in the first round of voting, the two top candidates would go on to a second round of voting, and we could avoid all talk about focusing on the overall situation.
However, no system is perfect. The soundness of a democratic system relies on the intelligence of its voters. In next month’s elections, we will have three ballots: one for president, one for directly elected legislators and one for parties that will decide the distribution of the 34 legislator-at-large seats.
A closer look at the legislators-at-large lists shows that some of those included are clearly there to share in the spoils, while others have been enlisted as voting machines to vote according to their party’s wishes. Others still do not have a shred of idealism. Voters will have to elect Tsai, Ma or Soong as their president, and of the 79 directly elected legislators, there will not be many from outside the pan-blue or pan-green camps. The only hope voters have of blocking absolute power and absolute corruption are the 34 legislators-at-large produced by the party vote.
Voters should use their votes intelligently: For president and directly elected legislator, they should vote for their preference, but when it comes to the party vote, they should vote according to their conscience and split their vote. If they voted for the wrong president or directly elected legislator, the legislators-at-large could serve as the “white blood cells” of the nation and prevent a risky concentration of power.
Splitting the party vote and the presidential vote is a matter of risk management, a safety measure like buying an insurance policy. If you give your party vote to the party of your presidential choice, you’re just placing all your eggs in one basket. In the pan-blue and pan-green camps, legislators-at-large follow the party whip and do what they are told lest they be expelled and lose their qualification to remain a legislator-at-large.
When it comes to the vote for president and directly elected legislators, the choice may be directed by personal obligations, but there is less pressure on the party vote and voters would do well to mark their ballots for smaller parties with ideals, beliefs and outstanding candidates as well as parties offering hope. This means voters must take a cool and detached look at the parties’ political platforms and their candidates. Splitting your vote does not mean voting mindlessly.
I have no big hopes for next year’s presidential election. The candidates are not discussing national and international matters, but they are turning the world upside down over piggy banks, bookmakers and US citizenship. My only hope is that voters will show their intelligence and split their vote to manage the risk and buy an insurance policy.
Doing so would also help alleviate the devilish standoff between the pan-blue and pan-green camps. Voters must learn something new from every election if Taiwan’s democracy is to continue to consolidate further.
Shih Ming-te is an advisor to Taiwan National Congress.
Translated by Perry Svensson
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