The number of small parties running in Jan. 11’s legislative elections have reached a record 19, but whether they can secure seats depends on whether they can find clear identities to appeal to voters, according to academics.
While the Legislative Yuan continues to be dominated by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), academics say that increasing dissatisfaction regarding the major political parties could give smaller players a better chance.
“We have seen more small parties entering the 2020 election than in previous years, and it is likely that there will be more such parties formed in the future, becoming an alternative for people tired of having to choose between the DPP or KMT,” said Hu Po-yen (胡博硯), a law professor at Soochow University.
Eighteen parties ran in the 2016 legislative elections, up from 11 in 2012.
However, an increased number of players does not necessarily mean that they are becoming more competitive, as many lack clear identities and are often perceived as being affiliated with bigger parties, some academics say.
“Small parties need to better position themselves by telling voters how different they are from the traditional political parties and why they are the better choice,” Chinese Culture University professor Niu Tse-hsun (鈕則勳) said.
The issue of differentiation for smaller parties has come into focus particularly in the run-up to these elections.
Following KMT infighting, Hon Hai Precision Co founder Terry Gou (郭台銘) withdrew from the party in September, after he was defeated in the KMT primary in July by Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜).
For a while, Gou was considering running for president as an independent, but decided instead to work with the People First Party (PFP), which is chaired by its presidential candidate, James Soong (宋楚瑜), and the Taiwan People’s Party, which was established in August by Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲).
Yang Tai-shuenn (楊泰順), a political science professor at Chinese Culture University, said that the requirements for political parties to enter the race for at-large seats are too lax.
Under Taiwan’s “single-member constituency, two-vote” system, each eligible voter can cast two ballots in the legislative elections — one for a district candidate and another for a political party. Based on the vote count in the latter, 34 at-large seats are apportioned, but a political party must gain at least 5 percent of the ballots to be eligible for a share of the at-large seats.
Taiwan has “an overflow of political parties,” and small parties should be legally required to prove they have sufficient support, Yang said.
For instance, parties should be required to have received a donation threshold, or achieve a signature threshold, before fielding a candidate, he said.
However, some say that it is difficult to develop smaller parties in Taiwan’s political environment.
“Even if such parties only have 5 percent public representation, they should be given a space in the legislature,” Hu said.
Chu Chao-hsiang (曲兆祥), a political science professor at National Taiwan Normal University, and Niu said there is a good chance that small parties will gain more votes in these elections, creating a legislature in which no party holds a majority, due to poor performances by the DPP and the KMT, as well as their disappointing nominations for at-large seats.
In the 113-seat legislature, 73 seats are directly elected in winner-take-all constituencies, six are reserved for Aboriginal candidates elected by Aborigines, and 34 are at-large seats allocated based on a patry’s share of the political party vote.
In the 2016 elections, the DPP obtained 18 legislator-at-large seats, the KMT 11, the PFP three and the New Power Party two.
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