The nine-in-one elections on Nov. 29 saw the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) gain an unprecedented 13 cities and counties throughout the country, completely redrawing the nation’s political map.
The pan-blue camp had long held the north, while the pan-greens had traditionally been stronger in the south. This is no longer true. It is also the first time the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) has lost Taipei without having the pan-blue camp’s vote split. The results do give rise to suspicions that there has been, following the nine-in-one elections, a major realignment in the support of the two main parties.
Political theorists often categorize elections into three types. There is the maintaining election, the deviating election and the critical — or realigning — election.
A maintaining election is one that reflects the established pattern, and entails no major upsets in the results for any political party. A deviating election is where, either due to special circumstances or a particular candidate, there is a change in the electoral support for the parties, but which nevertheless reverts back to the original situation come the next election. The third type, the realigning election, is where the emergence of a major issue or a significant change in a given party’s policies causes voters to shift their support to that party’s rival, or there is a structural change in the party’s electoral support, resulting in a long-term change in the political map.
What is interesting is whether the nine-in-one elections will prove to be a deviating election or a realigning election that will have a much more far-reaching effect.
Over the last few years, increasing numbers of voters have become disillusioned with the performance of the KMT government, just as they have been becoming more impatient with the conflict between the pan-blue and pan-green camps. In addition to the issue of national status, there are also the issues of wealth disparity and fair allocation of resources; issues which are being taken ever more seriously by the electorate and especially by younger voters.
It has also become increasingly apparent that the governing authorities have no way of responding to the needs of voters. Many KMT candidates, including those standing in Taipei, maintained that their party was the one strongest on economic issues, and yet their policies were the same old ones of promoting development, growth, construction and internationalization, all issues that, frankly, were some way away from the economic issues that voters were more concerned about: Wealth disparity, fair allocation of resources, low salaries, unemployment and house prices.
As a result, people opposed to what is going on have come to associate big business, established power interests and the KMT as one and the same thing, and these social movements — including the younger generation, some of whom had just gained the right to vote — together with the DPP’s original support, formed this new coalition of voters responsible for making the KMT’s walls come tumbling down.
In the aftermath of the Sunflower movement, the younger generation as a whole has become more potent and efficacious as a political force. They have been more enthusiastic about turning out to vote, and they have used the Internet to their advantage in participating more in politics, and using social media to mobilize voters in a way completely different to how things have traditionally been done.
Even Taipei mayor-elect Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) had to acknowledge how the “Internet effect” of the new era was a crucial factor in his victory. If the older generation of politicians and the political parties continue to disregard or indeed completely ignore the Internet generation, or even view it as an adversary, they are almost certainly running the risk of being left behind.
Whether or not the nine-in-one election results mean that a major, long-term realignment has taken place remains to be seen, and we may need to reassess the situation come the 2016 presidential election to know for sure either way.
From the Sunflower movement in March — after which all manner of civic groups have emerged — all the way to the success of Ko’s opposition alliance, we can say that a considerable number of independent voters have appeared, together with the phenomenon of a party dealignment that is beyond the control of the traditional pan-blue and pan-green political parties.
This time, a group of independent voters joined forces with DPP supporters to deliver a rout for the KMT and to hand the DPP 13 cities and counties, plus Taipei. However, that does not mean that this coalition will necessarily identify themselves with the DPP over the long term.
How the various main political parties interact with civil society in the future, and how they will form a new winning coalition that will replace the current two-party system, will inform how Taiwanese politics develops going forward.
Wang Yeh-lih is a political science professor at National Taiwan University.
Translated by Paul Cooper
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