On Wednesday last week, the disciplinary committee of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) revoked Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng’s (王金平) membership — on account of his alleged infringement of the party’s internal regulations — thinking this would cause Wang to automatically lose his legislator-at-large seat and his position as speaker. However, two days later, the Taipei District Court granted Wang an injunction to retain his KMT membership, enabling him to retain his seat and leadership position for the time being.
Discussions about Wang’s KMT membership and its implications for his status as an legislator-at-large have mostly focused on the legal aspects, while few commentators have been talking about it from the point of view of the way the electoral system is designed.
Since the January 2008 legislative election, in which voters chose the members of the seventh legislature, Taiwan has adopted a single-member constituency system in which each voter can cast two votes. The system can be classified as mixed, in which a plurality system and proportional representation exist side-by-side. The main feature of this system is that voters have the right to cast two ballots, one for an individual candidate and the other for a political party, and it is the latter that determines the share of proportional-representation seats that are allotted to the various parties.
To get more at-large seats, the parties think carefully about who they are going to put on their party lists. They all try to select nominees who will meet society’s expectations. Therefore, it would not be true to say that at-large candidates’ status has no basis in public opinion. Parties depend on the lists of people they select as nominees for at-large seats to increase their seats and influence in the legislature.
At-large legislators gain their seats according to the number of political-party ballots cast, so, to some extent, they are similar to candidates in the way our electoral system is designed. Just as is the case with constituency candidates, voters can refer to the at-large nominees listed on the election notices that they receive and decide how to vote accordingly. Seen from this point of view, at-large legislators are not the exclusive domain or private property of the parties that nominated them.
In last year’s election for the eighth legislature, the KMT got 39 percent of the political-party votes in Greater Kaohsiung. This was the highest party vote that the KMT got in any of the counties or municipalities south of Yunlin County, which is governed by the Democratic Progressive Party. Wang, as a political leader who was born in Greater Kaohsiung, must have had some influence over this result, and his connections and popularity in other counties and cities must also have made a positive contribution to the KMT’s ability to win 5.86 million party votes, giving it 16 at-large seats in the legislature.
The authority of a party to alter the status of at-large legislators must be considered in connection with the way at-large legislators are selected, otherwise we reduce those legislators’ official titles and posts to trappings that can be given and taken away in private, and even become mere tools of political struggle. From the voters’ point of view, the votes they cast for the various parties’ lists of nominees for at-large legislative seats are also a means of entrusting political power to those people.
Voters may not necessarily agree with at-large legislators being unilaterally removed from their posts. From this viewpoint, the KMT’s efforts to deprive Wang of his status as legislator definitely runs contrary to democratic principles. It trespasses on the public’s will as expressed through their votes, and it mangles the spirit of the electoral system.
Chiu Li-li is a Greater Tainan city councilor.
Translated by Julian Clegg