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Year 2008 Legislative Yuan Elections results

A vote for closer relations with China?

On Saturday, 12 January 2008, Taiwan held its first legislative election since the 2005 restructuring of the Legislative Yuan, which reduced the number of seats in the LY from 225 to 113 seats and changed the election system from multi-seat districts to a mixed system of 73 single-seat election districts, six seats reserved for aborigines, and 34 at-large seats that are elected proportionally.

Overall, the Kuomintang won 81 seats and the DPP 27 seats, with the remaining five seats going to smaller parties or non-affiliated candidates. Below we first present some initial observations, the numbers, and some background on the two referendums on the ballot, and then a commentary by Prof. J. Bruce Jacobs, who was in Taiwan to observe the elections.

Was this a vote for closer relations with China and a repudiation of the DPP’s policies to enhance the Taiwanese identity? A closer look at the numbers shows that the answer to both questions is a definitive “no.”

The Taiwanese are proud of their achievements, politically, culturally, economically and do want to live in peace with China, but do not want to be annexed by China and live under its authoritarian rule.

The KMT and DPP may differ on their approach to China, but both are in agreement that Taiwan is a free and democratic nation, and they want their country to be a full and equal member in the international community. In recent opinion polls in Taiwan, an overwhelming 95% of the respondents indicated they supported Taiwan’s membership in the UN — and only differed on the question under which name this should occur, “Taiwan” or “ROC”.

Was there a significant shift from one party to the other? Again, the answer is “no.” But the Kuomintang was better in “getting-out-the-vote”, and the new system worked to the disadvantage of the DPP (See "The numbers" below).

While the KMT is proclaiming support for democracy, its track record is flawed at best: in the transition to democracy in the 1980s and early 1990s, it had to be pushed every step of the way, and only grudgingly went along when change was inevitable. After the DPP gained power in 2000, the Kuomintang was anything but a loyal opposition, and obstructed the newly-established DPP government at every turn.

The numbers

In the 34 at-large / proportional seats, the KMT received 51.2% of the vote (20 seats), the DPP 36.9% (14 seats), the New Party 3.9% and the TSU 3.5%. These percentages are the best indicator of the overall support of the various parties.

For the at-large seats, a threshold of five percent of the vote is required to gain a seat: in effect, this means that smaller parties are shut out of the proportional seats. This plus their poor showing in the single-seat districts means that the New Party and TSU do not have any seats at all in the new legislature.

In the newly restructured single-seat-district races, the system is basically winner take-all. In these contests the KMT won a substantially larger number of races than forecast: taking 61 seats to the DPP’s 13, with the rest going to a few candidates from small parties and independents.

The KMT landslide was a combination of the following factors:

1. Like in the USA and many other Western countries: all politics is local. This was a local election on local “bread-and-butter” issues like the economy. Although the economy is clipping along very well at a sustainable rate of nearly 6%, the impression was created by the pan-blue dominated media, that things were not going well.

2. The restructured single-district system benefited the KMT in a number of ways, and gave it an unfair advantage. There were built-in advantages for the KMT through a number of smaller districts like Kinmen, Matsu, Taitung and the six seats reserved for aboriginals, where the KMT has traditionally had a monopoly on power. This amounts to a 10-seat advantage right from the start.

The new electoral system thus turned out to be flawed, and is leading to imbalances in the exercise of Taiwan’s democracy, since there is a significant discrepancy between the popular vote and the number of seats the KMT received. After the elections, even the KMT Speaker of the Legislative Yuan, Mr. Wang Chin-ping, acknowledged this problem and said the issue needs to be revisited.

3. Overwhelming financial resources: The KMT still has large amounts of funds amassed during the 50-year period it was the ruling party. It reportedly is the richest political party in the world with more than US 1 billion in assets. This was the subject of a “stolen assets” referendum proposed by the DPP (see below). An American observer who has lived in Taiwan for many years reported that the KMT candidates in many parts of the country engaged in extensive vote buying. Reports in the Taiwan press also stated that vote-buying “reached a new high” in this election. The director-general of the National Police Agency, Mr. Hou Yo-yih said that the extent of corruption was serious, and needed to be reined in quickly.

4. The extremely low voter turnout, the lowest since the first legislative elections for all seats in the LY in 1992: approximately 56.6% as compared to 66-70% in previous elections. The largest block of eligible voters, 43.4%, thus did not vote at all. This points to a severe dissatisfaction of the electorate with the political infighting and confrontations in the legislature.

The KMT won 51.2% of those who cast their votes. This means that less than onethird, only 28.9% of the eligible voters voted for the KMT. Of course the percentage for the DPP was even lower: 36.9% of the 56.6% which amounts to 20.9% of the eligible voters.

5. During the past eight years, the KMT has become much more “Taiwanese”: although the top is still dominated by Chinese mainlanders, its members in the legislature are mostly Taiwanese and Taiwanese dominate its rallies.

6. President Chen’s combative style did contribute to the loss in the elections: he was up-front in battling it out with the KMT, instead of remaining above the fray and “presidential”. But it must be remembered that he started his Administration in 2000 with an olive branch in outstretched hand – reaching out to the KMT and even appointing a KMT Prime Minister.

However, the KMT responded with scorched-earth tactics, obstructing the DPP Administration at every turn, blocking the arms budget and other budgets, and perpetually badgering the President. In the end, President Chen decided to fight back, and became just as confrontational as his opponents. President Chen’s style also galvanized the “pan-blue” supporters, while a significant section of disenchanted DPP supporters did stay home.

7. There was no significant “shift” from one party to the other: if one looks at the total numbers, each party retained their power base, but the KMT was simply much better at “getting-out-the-vote.”

The numbers of votes and percentages for the DPP in all legislative elections since 1992 (Source: Central Election Commission):

Year No. of votes Percentage of vote
1992 3,093,128 33.18%
1995 3,132,156 33.17%
1998 2,966,834 29.42%
2001 3,447,740 33.38%
2004 3,471,429 35.73%
2008 3,610,106 36.91%

8. A strong pro-KMT bias in the major news media (United Daily News and China Times) is also a major factor in the overall tilt of the playing field against the DPP.

9. The "pan-green" vote was split: the DPP did not exert strong party discipline, and was not able to prevent a number of the present legislators — who were not nominated by the party and thus lost their seats during the aforementioned downsizing — from running. This divided the party’s vote and further reduced the number of DPP seats. In addition, the competition with Lee Teng-hui’s Taiwan Solidarity Union, its pan-green associate, split the vote even further.

Two referendums

This election was accompanied by two referendums: one initiated by the DPP which mandates the return of the stolen assets amassed during 50 years of one-party rule, and one initiated by the KMT on investigating high (read “DPP”) officials for corruption.

Since, were it to pass, the assets referendum would severely impact the KMT’s finances, the KMT worked to obstruct any referendum. Initially it tried to force balloting for the referendums at a different location from that for LY candidates (“twostep” voting).

However, when the Central Election Commission decided that the balloting for the referendums should take place at the same location and the same time as the voting for candidates, the KMT urged its voters not to vote in the referendum. There are also credible reports of local officials who are KMT members, at the polling stations urging voters not to cast their vote in the referendum or refusing to give out the ballots. In the end, both referendums were voted on by only approx. 26% of the eligible voters, whereas voter turnout was 56.6%):

  • The DPP-sponsored referendum on KMT stolen assets received 91% of the approx. 4.25 million valid votes cast,
  • The KMT-sponsored referendum on investigating high officials for corruption received 58% of the 3.96 million. valid votes cast.

But since neither referendum achieved the required 50% of eligible voters—an incredibly high threshold not seen in any Western nation — neither referendum passed.

Another referendum, on Taiwan’s entry into the United Nations – was not part of this legislative election, but is on the agenda on the occasion of the Presidential elections on March 22nd 2008.