The New Power Party (NPP) has been thrown into crisis and might be headed toward implosion. On the face of it, this is because of a split between those who want the party to be a junior partner to the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and those who want it to act independently.
However, the NPP’s crisis is the fate faced by small parties in general under a legislative election system that favors the strong and bullies the weak. This can be seen from what has happened to the Taiwan Solidarity Union and the People First Party (PFP) since the seventh amendment of the Constitution, which came into effect in 2005.
By means of this amendment, Taiwan’s two main parties — the DPP and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) — joined hands to squeeze the space for small parties’ by introducing a single-district, two-vote system.
This system, under which only one legislator can be elected to represent each electoral district, has turned elections into duels between the “blue” KMT and the “green” DPP.
Small parties do not stand a chance unless one of the two big parties gives way to them, but why would they give way if they have a strong candidate?
In reality, this “giving way” only happens when a big party concedes a problematic district where it knows it cannot win.
One result is that small-party candidates feel obligated to the big party that gave way to them, whether they are elected or not, so they decide to leave their small party and join the big one. This has happened countless times.
Under the single-district, two-vote system, Taiwanese have a second vote that they cast for a party, on the basis of which at-large legislative seats are allocated to the parties in proportion to the total votes that they win nationwide.
The purpose of having at-large legislators was to enable political parties to propose experts who have specialist abilities, but would be in a weak position in district elections, so that they can enter the legislature and speak out on behalf of diverse public opinion.
On the face of it, the existence of these at-large legislative seats should make it easier for small parties to survive.
However, the amendment set a threshold of 5 percent of the total vote for a party to be allocated at-large seats. These seats are allocated in proportion to votes cast, but only among parties that pass the threshold. In effect, this amounts to small parties giving way to big ones.
This defect means that the seats allocated to parties are not really proportional to the votes cast for them and leads to a serious discrepancy between the composition of the legislature and public opinion.
As a result of the amendment, legislative procedure has descended into long-term conflict, while representational government fails in its purpose of representing the will of the people.
This can be seen from the example of the Ninth Republic of China Legislative Yuan election on Jan. 16, 2016.
The DPP got 44 percent of the party votes, for which it was allocated 18 at-large seats, which is 53 percent of the total 34 such seats. The KMT got 27 percent of the party votes and was allocated 11 at-large seats, or 32 percent the total.
Other parties gained a total of nearly 2 million party votes between them, which is 16 percent of all the party votes cast, but because each of them got less than the threshold of 5 percent, none of them was awarded even a single seat.
This is a clear departure from the principle of proportionality. As for electoral district votes, the DPP got 45 percent of such votes and won 50 district seats, which is 68 percent of the total of 73, while the PFP got 7 percent of all electoral district votes, but did not win a single seat.
The disproportion between seats allocated and votes gained is therefore even more serious with respect to electoral districts.
The Constitution states that “all citizens of the Republic of China, irrespective of sex, religion, race, class, or party affiliation, shall be equal before the law.” It calls for equal elections in which every vote has the same value.
This principle of equality in the system for electing legislators should be implemented with regard to political parties.
Only by allocating all legislative seats in proportion to the number of votes cast in favor of each party can the system accurately reflect the support that each party really has, thus reflecting the full diversity of public opinion and strengthening the operation of party politics.
The problematic nature of the system for electing legislators, which makes it hard for small parties to win seats, should therefore not be allowed to continue.
Taiwan sees itself as a model of democracy in Asia, but it has a legislative election system that creates a “two-party dictatorship.”
After three handovers of central government power between the two main parties, there is now an upsurge of public opinion in favor of third-force parties breaking free of the destructive struggle between “blue” and “green.”
There are some newly established small parties that are keen to make this change, but if the ridiculous system for electing legislators is not changed, all their enthusiasm might be for nothing and these parties’ bubbles might burst, as has happened so many times before.
Lau Yi-te is chairman of the Taiwan Solidarity Union.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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