For a long time, politics in this country has been dominated by the major parties. Some people, therefore, equate a plurality of smaller parties in the legislature with a recipe for political pandemonium. The result of this attitude is that although the electoral system was changed — from multi-member districts to a single-member district, double ballot system used in the past two legislative elections — the big parties remain big and the smaller parties remain small. Although many parties run candidates in many legislative districts, it is still generally a showdown between the two major parties — the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Democratic Progressive Party — squeezing out the smaller ones.
The minor parties are also rendered weak and vulnerable, with little chance of getting a foot in the door, by the proportional representation part of the system, in which seats are allocated as a percentage of the party list vote. These developments are taking us further away from the spirit of representative democracy, and ensure that certain legislative districts become the long-term monopoly of one of the major parties. The voices of other sections of the electorate simply have no chance to be heard.
The system for democratic elections in this country was originally designed with the objective of making sure that political parties representing all classes and all stances were represented. This was to be achieved by having many parties, big and small, jostling with each other to develop laws and policies that were moderate in nature and acceptable to all sides. If one party is allowed to dominate for an extended period of time, the legislation that emerges is sure to be biased in its favor.
In last month’s elections, two parties — parties which have not been receiving the respect they should in policy formation — expressed their dissatisfaction and criticism of the KMT’s monopolization of the political arena. However, under the current system these voices are unlikely to lead to change.
Taiwan is not alone in using the single member district, double ballot system. Other countries in the region use or have used similar systems, including Japan, Thailand and the Philippines. Comparing our own system with the latter two countries is useful to illustrate the kind of issues such a system can produce.
The single member district system employed in the Philippines is much the same as that employed in other countries, although it differs in the way the party list system is operated.
In order to prevent monopolization by the larger parties, the five largest parties are excluded from participating in the party list representative elections and therefore cannot benefit from the proportional allocation of congressional seats resulting from the party list vote.
These seats are 20 percent of the total number of seats in the Philippine congress and half of them have to derive from votes by specific sections of society, such as laborers, farmers, the urban poor, ethnic minorities, women and young people.
In addition, to allow ordinary social groups to participate, those that operate on a national level can actually register to stand in the party list proportional representative system election. Each party that garners votes exceeding the threshold of 2 percent of the national total qualifies for a seat, and each party is allocated a maximum of three seats. This system was designed to promote universal representation and to prevent a few large parties dominating.