Following the first complete re-election of the legislature in December 1991, Taiwan’s political parties have behaved like the seven states during the Warring States period in ancient China, which repeatedly entered into and broke strategic alliances. This was the reason for the “great reconciliation cup of coffee” shared by the leaderships of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the New Party in December 1995 and their call for a coalition government.
In the past, Taiwanese elections used a multi-member-district electoral system which meant that a candidate could be almost certain of being elected if they won 10 percent of the votes in a district. Prior to the seventh legislature, elected in January 2008, there were several small parties in the legislature with five major legislative caucuses.
The seventh legislature saw a single-member-district system adopted in which a candidate could only be elected by winning 50 percent plus one vote, making it difficult for smaller parties to survive. There were only four independents and one People First Party (PFP) legislator in the seventh legislature, with the rest of the seats going to the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the DPP. The KMT and the DPP also won all the legislator-at-large seats.
In the current, eighth legislature, both the PFP and Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) were allotted legislator-at-large seats, but barely met the minimum requirements for establishing a legislative caucus. Although they have a say, the number and influence of their lawmakers are insignificant, so they have little power to affect the outcome of a legislative vote.
The legislature has long developed toward two-party politics, and this trend seems irreversible.
How did the PFP and TSU manage to avoid an early death and return to the legislature, and why did the New Party announce that it would withdraw from the pan-blue camp in order to break the blue-green framework?
Recent reports have alleged that former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) is planning to establish a new party. The reason for these developments is that city councilor elections in the five special municipalities still use the medium-sized, multi-member-district system, giving smaller parties a chance to survive.
After the 2010 amendment to the Local Government Act (地方制度法), the city councils in the five special municipalities were comprised of more than 300 councilors. In the city councilor elections that year, the KMT won 130 seats, as did the DPP, while the TSU, the New Party and the PFP won one, three and four seats, respectively.
While these parties will not wield much influence, 45 independent councilors were also elected, which implies that there might be some room for a redrawing of the political map by a New Party withdrawal from the pan-blue camp or if a new party is established by Chen.
When Taoyuan County becomes Taiwan’s sixth special municipality, the number of city councilors in these municipalities will reach almost 400, representing a total of 16 million people. By pitting a first-rate candidate against a second-rate candidate from one of the two major parties, it will not be difficult for a small party to attract 10 percent of the vote and win a seat in each district under the multi-member-district system. If it manages to establish council caucuses, it could use that to enjoy greater media exposure and make good use of the resources available to city councilors in order to consolidate their support bases in the six municipalities.
Since the population of the special municipalities would account for two-thirds of the total population, it could be possible for a small party relying on the support of voters in these municipalities alone to reach the 5 percent of the national vote required to be allotted a legislator-at-large seat. Relying on strategic voting cooperation with other parties, a small party might even be able to win a regular legislator-at-large seat in certain districts.
In distancing itself from the KMT, the New Party does not resort to talk about lofty ideals. Instead, it says that rather than supporting or opposing President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), it would make every effort to compete in the 2014 local elections. In addition, if Chen really does form a new party, it would probably not be very polite toward the DPP either and would certainly nominate an “assassin” in each district in the 2014 local elections.
As elections approach and parties hold their primaries, the KMT and DPP politicians who fail to be nominated could well leave their parties, further strengthening the trend toward a political party regrouping. A new party established by Chen would be the first stage of such a reshuffling of Taiwan’s political map.
The only problem is that, in a political landscape with several co-existing small parties, confrontation between different political parties or ethnic groups subscribing to different ideologies might further worsen due to a lack of mutual trust. To win voter support, intolerance toward other parties would increase, resulting in decreased inter-party dialogue and cooperation.
The New Party’s withdrawal from the pan-blue camp is clearly a declaration that the party will attempt to attract the support of military personnel, civil servants and public school teachers dissatisfied with Ma’s handling of the year-end pension bonus issue. This would inevitably throw a spanner in the works for the government as it tries to reform the pension system.
If Chen does establish a new party, it would have a very significant impact on DPP fundamentalists. Even if members of the pro-Chen One Side, One Country Alliance did not withdraw from the DPP, the party leadership would come under great pressure, making a normal relationship between the DPP and China more unlikely.
The electoral reform introducing a single-member, double ballot system was carried out in the hope that the 50 percent plus one vote would reduce ethnic confrontation caused by fringe candidates currying favor with extremists. However, in the five years since the reform, the wished-for effects have yet to be seen. Instead, the rising importance of the city council elections in the eventual six special municipalities might bring Taiwan back to square one –– probably not what the reformists had in mind.
Jan Shou-jung is a freelance writer.
Translated by Eddy Chang