In a momentous change to the country's politics, a new voting system for legislative elections is eliciting hopes for the formation of a more substantial middle ground in politics -- as well as worries that the nation's democracy will suffer damage, analysts said yesterday.
The new system will result in a 113-seat legislature, slashed from 225. Seventy-three legislators will be directly elected from a "single-member district," while 34 will be filled by parties who win more than 5 percent of the total number of votes cast.
Voters will cast two votes -- one for a regional candidate in his or her district, and one for a party -- in a system that replaces the current "single-vote, multiple-member district" structure.
"A major effect of the new system is to force parties to take a middle course, as it is unlikely that a party will win a single-member district by focusing only on a niche market," said Ting Jen-fang (
Former president Lee Teng-hui's (
Lee, the "spiritual leader" of the party, likened changing the names of state-owned firms or state agencies to include the name "Taiwan" to fascism, Nazism and communism.
The new system, however, is expected to damage small parties.
The pan-blue People First Party (PFP), which holds 22 seats in the current legislature, has allied with the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), which controls 90 seats, in the hope that it can retain its proportion of seats in the legislature.
In the pan-green camp, the TSU is demanding that eight of its 12 legislators be accepted by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) as joint candidates. The TSU has also been calling on the DPP to negotiate on combined tickets in other districts.
"If moderate voters can shed political indifference and become strong enough to overshadow extreme voters, the new arrangements will make for a two-party system," Ting said.
If moderate voters prevail, politicians would behave more rationally and avoid extremism, said Hung Yung-tai (
"Under the multiple-member district, sometimes a candidate needed only 2 percent of the vote to win. When the cameras are on them, scuffles pandering to extreme voters break out quite easily. But such behavior would only do harm to parties in the new system," Hung said.
The independence versus unification debate has often dominated election campaigns, but Hung said that this would also change gradually.
"In the long run, parties need to take care of the problems concerning the vast majority of people, addressing issues that people care about and not those that they themselves prefer," Hung said.
The biggest worry for the new system, however, is the problem of disproportionality.
Some say that this disproportional representation might turn the desirability of forming a two-party system into an undesirable situation in which one party dominates.
According to the Central Election Commission, the average population in each new electoral district is about 305,000, not counting Aboriginal people, who have six reserved seats in the new system.
As the Constitution requires each county and city to have at least one directly elected legislator, Chiayi City and Hualien, Taitung, Penghu, Kinmen and Lienchiang counties will have representation for populations of a considerably smaller size.
The way regional seats were allotted resulted in "voting inequality," Hung said.
For example, a legislator for Hsinchu County represents 460,667 people, while a legislator for Lienchiang County will serve just 10,130 people.
"The new arrangement favors the KMT, as it is estimated that the DPP will not secure a legislative majority unless it obtains more than 55 percent of the total vote," Ting said.
Hung said the pan-blue camp could still hold about 60 legislative seats -- a majority -- even if it received only 30 percent of the vote.
Hung added that the pan-blue camp could permanently control the legislature as a result of the "vote-to-seat distortion."
This prediction is based on the fact that almost all of the nation's 10 one-seat counties and six Aboriginal seats are nominally pan-blue-camp strongholds.
These include Keelung, Hsinchu and Chiayi cities, as well as Hsinchu, Hualien, Taitung, Penghu, Kinmen and Lienchiang Counties.
The DPP has seats in some of these counties and cities, but reducing representation to one seat in these places might mean depriving the DPP of local representation altogether.
Wang Yeh-lih (王業立), a political science professor at Tunghai University, said that the system amounted to unequal competition.
"It's like a race starting with the score of 11 seats for the pan-blues to zero," he said.
Hung said that "The only way of resolving disproportionality is to remap the administrative districts; uneven population distribution is really a big problem in the countryside."
Another problem in the wake of the redistribution is the downsizing of electoral districts in the 15 more populous counties and cities.
"The change ... has had a double impact: for voters and for candidates," said KMT Legislator Joanna Lei (
There, the number of districts has increased from three in the old system to 12 in the new.
Lei's old district includes Sindian (
"Now, my district is only as large as Sindian," she said.
Lei said that voters have to tell the difference between choosing a chief for Sindian, whose job is to maintain streetlamps and improve community traffic, and selecting a legislator charged with the task of reviewing budgets and bills concerning the entire country.
Lei said that smaller districts favored candidates with financial strength because they can spend money in various ways to build closer ties with constituents -- a key to winning election.
"It's an educational process. Voters must learn, and the legislature also needs to pass a regulation prohibiting lawmakers from running for-profit businesses," she said.
Ho Tung-hsun (何宗勳), spokesman for Citizen Watch, a civic group alliance, said it was imperative to improve regulations on the operation of the legislature so that lawmakers can be better monitored.
"Halving the seats means that legislators become more powerful. Maybe just three lawmakers could decide on a policy in a committee. And the problem is that the public is not allowed to attend the committees, not to mention closed-door party negotiations," Ho said.
Currently there are 12 standing committees in the legislature responsible for deliberating on policies referred to it by government departments.
"It would be easier for activists and the public to monitor the legislature, considering the fewer number of lawmakers. But that would only happen on the condition that some changes are made to bring about transparency in legislation," Ho said.
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