Taiwan Communiqué No. 69, January 1996

Taiwan elects new Legislative Yuan

Chinese threats and intimidations didn't work

The results of Taiwan's December 2 parliamentary elections show that China's bullying, bluff, and bluster didn't impress the island's voters. The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) actually increased its share of the popular vote slightly, to some 33 percent, a gain of at least two percent over the 31 percent share it received in the 1992 elections. This translates into 54 seats in the 164-seat parliament, an increase of four.

This shows that China's threats and military intimidation did not sway the island's voters away from the pro-independence party, but on the contrary, solidified its support.

Yes, there is a Taiwan

The main significance of the elections is that Taiwan has achieved a stable democratic political system. Within just a few years, the island has gone through a transformation from a tightly-controlled, KMT-dominated authoritarian system to a free, open and pluralistic society.

As was noted by veteran New York Times editor and writer A.M. Rosenthal, the elections show that there is a Taiwan, "...which has produced a prosperous, growingly democratic society of its own" ("Yes, there is a Taiwan", New York Times, 28 November 1995).

Taiwan doorman to Chinese "bear": "I'm sorry, we are just too busy with our elections to be frightened by you."

The Washington Post also published an article on the significance of the elections ("Taiwan vote gives China little in bragging rights, Intimidation fails to undermine free election", 5 December 1995). In the article, correspondent Keith Richburg gave a good analysis of the significance of the elections on cross-straits relations: "To gauge the true measure of mainland China's reaction ... look not at what was said, but what was not."

Mr. Richburg focused on the fact that the government-controlled Chinese media did not report on the elections at all, and stated: "The reason for the news blackout is simple: fear. In a country still tightly ruled by a rigid Communist Party adamantly opposed to multiparty politics, what happened across the Taiwan Strait was an anathema, a heresy, a virtual crime against the established order it was a free democratic election."

Mainly local concerns

Another overall conclusion of the elections is that the voters were primarily concerned with local issues, and thus less swayed by what was happening across the Taiwan Straits.

This is partially due to the structure of Taiwan's multi-seat legislative districts, and the nature of politics on the island: candidates generally run a very individualistic campaign, and voters primarily look to support candidates who can improve their livelihood by bringing them a reduction of bureaucracy, cleaner environment, etc.

In the present elections, there was also the "new" element of the New Party, which presented itself as a "clean" party, free of the corruption and money politics which is tainting the Kuomintang. Indeed, the New Party candidates attracted support by emphasizing their qualifications as a refreshing alternative to the Kuomintang, and in fact de-emphasized their "pro-unification" stance.

The "local" flavor of the elections and the concentration on "bread-and-butter" issues was highlighted in two excellent articles in the London-based Economist ("An old-fashioned election", 9-15 December 1995) and the Hong Kong-based Far Eastern Economic Review ("Politics is Local", 14 December 1995). The Review article also chided overseas newspapers, such as USA Today, for their hasty assumptions and for incorrectly concluding that the New Party gains "proved that Taipei needed to repair its ties with China."

The Results: Facts and Figures

Below we first give a statistical overview of the election results. On the following pages you find a more in-depth analysis.

KMT DPP New Party Other TOTAL
No. of VOTES: 4,349,089 3,132,156 1,222,931 737,960 9,442,136
Perc. of Votes 46.06% 33.17% 12.95% 7.82% 100.00%
No. of SEATS:
Regular Districts 67 41 16 4 128
"Non-regional" seats 15 11 4 0 30
Overseas Taiwanese 3 2 1 0 6
TOTAL: 85 54 21 4 164
Perc. of Seats 51.8% 32.9% 12.8% 2.4%

One measure of how successful a party was in obtaining seats is the number of seats per percentage of the votes: a small computation learns that the KMT obtained 1.845 seats/percent, the DPP 1.628, the New Party 1.6216, and independents .51 (nominal is 1.64). We see that both the DPP and the New Party are close to nominal, while the Kuomintang is still quite successful in spreading its votes over the right number of candidates.

KMT loses popular majority, but maintains a thin Parliamentary edge

Still, the big loser was the ruling Kuomintang, which saw its popular support drop from 53 percent in the 1992 elections to 46 percent now. It was the first time in its history that the KMT has dropped below 50 percent in national parliamentary elections. However, through clever maneuvering in the multi-seats districts, the ruling party was able to hang on to a razor-thin majority in the Legislative Yuan: it now holds 85 seats, down 11 from the 96 seats it obtained in 1992. Only once earlier, in local elections in 1993, the KMT also received less than half the vote.

President Lee Teng-hui: "didn't I disguise my "money-politics" and "gangster-connection" dragons well enough ?"

The KMT lost mainly in the metropolitan areas such as Taipei city, Taichung City and Kaohsiung City, where the New Party was making inroads into KMT strongholds, such as the military villages, which were traditionally considered "iron votes" for the KMT. The KMT still maintains a strong base in the rural area such as Hsinchu, Miaoli, Yunlin, Nan-tou and the outlying islands of Kinmen, Matsu and Penghu. However, as was explained in a recent article in The Economist (see below) this is mainly due to the extensive patronage system set up by the KMT over the past decades.

The gain of the New Party at the expense of the KMT is primarily a rebellion of the voters against the KMT's "money politics", the buying of votes, and its close association with big business.

However, this election also saw a shift of pro-unification diehards from within the Kuomintang to outside the party. Without these elements inside its ranks, the ruling Kuomintang will thus be able to move much faster in the direction of the DPP. During the past few years the "Taiwanization" of the traditionally mainlander-dominated KMT has moved them much closer to positions traditionally taken by the DPP.

The DPP wins, but is hampered by factionalism

The Democratic Progressive Party increased its share of the popular vote, and its number of seats in the Legislative Yuan, in comparison with the 1992 Legislative Yuan elections. These results show that the party has a solid popular base.

The DPP is primarily made up of native Taiwanese, who constitute 85 percent of the island's population, and thus still has major growth potential on the island.

Still, the DPP's share of the vote decreased in comparison to the 1993 County Magistrate elections and the 1994 Governor and Mayors elections. Also, the DPP's performance fell short of the predictions by the DPP leadership, which estimated that the party could win up to 60 seats. The party also lost several prominent incumbents, including two former chairmen, Messrs. Chiang Peng-chien and Yao Chia-wen.

The reasons for the disappointing results are threefold: 1) due to factionalism within the party, the DPP nominated too many candidates in some areas and the votes were spread too thin. 2) The difficulty in Taiwan's multi-seat districts to spread the votes evenly, and the tendency of the DPP-voters to shift the vote to a candidate who is perceived to be weaker. A prime example was Mr. Chiang Peng-chien in Taipei-North: he was perceived to be a strong candidate, and many voters thus shifted their vote to the weaker DPP-candidates, resulting in Mr. Chiang's loss. 3) in some quarters, the DPP was also faulted for not doing enough to attract new supporters such as the middle class, women and young voters.

In Taipei City, the DPP received the largest number of votes and seats: it won eight seats, while the New Party won six, and the Kuomintang only four.

In Taipei South district, the "spread votes" strategy initiated by Legislator Shen Fu-hsiung worked successfully in getting all four candidates elected: Dr. Shen himself, Ms. Yeh Chu-lan, Messrs. Huang Tien-fu and Yen Chin-fu. Voters were asked to cast their vote for the four candidates according to the season in which they were born: those born in Winter, vote for Mr. Yin Chin-fu, those born in the Spring vote for Dr. Shen Fu-hsiung, etc.

Winning DPP-quartet in Taipei South: Ms. Yeh Chu-lan (front) Back row (left to right): Shen Fu-hsiung, Huang Tien-fu, and Yen Chin-fu .

In Taipei County, the DPP did poorly due to the fact that they fielded too many candidates: only four of the 10 DPP candidates were elected. The DPP captured only four seats out of the 17 seats contested. The New Party took three, KMT took eight and two independent candidates were elected. The DPP lost two incumbents, Mr. Huang Huang-hsiung and Ms. Chen Wan-chen, while Messrs. Lu Hsiu-yi and Chou Po-lun won reelection. Mr. Su Chen-chang, the former county magistrate of Pingtung and a charismatic speaker, was also elected, as was Mr. Li Ying-yuan, one of the three WUFI candidates.

In Taichung City, DPP won only one of the four seats contested. Mr. Tsai Ming-hsien, a lawyer and a member of the National Assembly was elected. Mr. Liu Wen-chin, an incumbent, did not win reelection. Mr. Hsu Shi-Kai, a prominent member of the World United Formosans for Independence (WUFI), who returned to Taiwan from three decades of exile in Japan two years ago, was not elected. Dr. Hsu, a scholar, ran a very fair and polite campaign, and thus perhaps did not get enough name-recognition in Taiwan's rough and tumble elections.

In Tainan City, the DPP had enough votes for three out of the six seats contested. However, due to an uneven spread in the votes, only Mr. Shih Ming-teh, the chairman of DPP, was elected on the DPP-ticket. The other DPP-candidate, Dr. George Chang, the chairman of WUFI, who returned from three decades of exile in the United States, lost by a slim margin.

A third candidate in Tainan was Mr. Hsu Tien-tsai, who was considered one of the party's outstanding legislator. However, in a severe miscalculation, the DPP did not nominate him. He then temporarily withdrew from the party, ran as an independent, and won as the top vote getter. Mr. Hsu has indicated he wants to rejoin the DPP.

One of the most hotly contested races took place in Chia-yi, in Central Taiwan, where the DPP's Chai Trong-rong and KMT's Vincent Siew, chairman of the Mainland Affairs Council, and a three-term cabinet member, ran a neck and neck race. Both drew large crowds in the thousands to their rallies. In the end Mr. Chai lost by a very small margin, to no small degree due to the Kuomintang's largesse with new projects in the area.

On the DPP's overseas seats, two well-know Taiwanese activists were elected: Professor Parris Chang of Pennsylvania State University, who heads the DPP's Washington DC office, and Professor Albert Lin of Toronto, Canada. For Professor Chang it was a relatively routine re-election, but for Professor Lin the election means a major change: he has lived in Canada for 35 years, and was blacklisted and banned by the Kuomintang authorities from returning to Taiwan for 33 of those years.

During his years in Canada, Prof. Lin had been instrumental in organizing Taiwanese community activities and helping to start up church groups. With what he learned of the Canadian values of social justice and human rights, he tried to help Taiwan to move from a repressive regime to a full democracy today. As a member of the Taiwan's Legislative Yuan, he will focus on national security and foreign affair issues.

What is the New Party ?

The elections also finalized the split in the ruling party between the pro status-quo followers of President Lee Teng-hui, and the pro-unification New Party, a right-wing group which split off from the KMT two years ago.

The New Party obtained some 13 percent of the vote, winning 21 seats in the Legislative Yuan at the expense of the Kuomintang. The New Party mainly consists of second-generation descendants of the Chinese mainlanders, who came over with Chiang Kai-shek in the late 1940s.

The results showed that the New Party has carved away the core of KMT's power base the military villages and the middle class. Although President Lee campaigned ceaselessly all over the island for KMT candidates, he could not help stem the slippage. The KMT loss was thus the New Party's gain.

Were the elections fair ?

While the campaign was the most open and free-for-all Taiwan had seen in its history, there were still significant shortcomings:

  1. The three pro-government television stations are still strongly biased toward ruling party candidates. However, the influence of the "Big Three" is diminishing: cable television with over 70 channels is taking over as the major provider of news and entertainment in Taiwan. TVBS, a Hong-Kong based satellite cable television, has replaced the three government-controlled television stations as the most popular network in Taiwan. During the election campaign, candidates from the three major parties appeared daily on the talk shows to debate different issues and answered called-in questions from viewers.
  2. The Kuomintang still engaged in a major amount of "money-politics" while vote-buying was also still rampant, particularly in the country-side: according to the London-based The Economist, the KMT kept its majority "...thanks to its financial clout" ("An old fashioned election", The Economist, 9-15 December 1995).

The Economist described how in the countryside the crucial irrigation societies are all Kuomintang-controlled "...so rice farmers vote against the party at their peril. In the cities, the Kuomintang handed out pork." The magazine gave the example of the Chiayi race, which pitted the DPP's Chai Trong-rong against the KMT's Vincent Siew. "After promising a new college, a science park and a sports field, Mr. Siew came romping in" reported the Economist.

The New Legislative Yuan: shifting alliances

What will the new make-up of the Legislative Yuan mean: if anything, it will make life even more exciting in this already very lively body.

Although KMT still maintains a slim majority of three seats, in practice, it has lost the majority, because many KMT legislators are more keen on running their business empires, and never attend any legislative sessions. Thus, it will be necessary for the Kuomintang to work more closely with the democratic opposition in order to get legislation through.

If they wish, the DPP and New Party can join forces if they want to cooperate on issues on which they are generally aligned, such as the environment, and block KMT initiatives, such as the Fourth Nuclear power plant near Taipei.

On the other hand, because of their new-found "Taiwan-consciousness", the Kuomintang will be more focused on local issues and may align more frequently with the DPP. Together they can easily outvote the minority New Party.

Some analysts in Taiwan point out that the triangular balance is good for Taiwan's political evolution. They believe it will force the KMT to reform itself, and take strong action against money- and gangster-politics in order to recoup lost ground in the next elections. They say that if they expect to continue to gain new ground in future elections the DPP and the New Party have to move toward a more centrist position.

Others are not so optimistic. They fear the Legislative Yuan could become a free-for-all, as the three parties jockey for power, and party discipline decreases. To be continued.

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