Key legislative turnovers expected in Taiwan presidential elections
By Kuo Cheng-liang
The Taiwan presidential election season is winding down and Tsai Ing-wen will likely win the election. Now there are two big questions: 1) Can the DPP win over half the legislative seats? 2) How badly will the KMT lose? Both these questions will greatly affect Taiwan’s political landscape.
On Jan. 9, over 100,000 people showed up to support Tsai at a campaign rally in Kaohsiung. Tsai took the opportunity to remind everyone of three voting strategies that will determine the final number of legislative seats the DPP will win, i.e., oppose vote-buying, go home to vote, and concentrate votes.
First is opposing vote-buying. There are 8-10 competitive election districts in the race with rumors of gift-giving, free meals, subsidized travel, and extra hiring, if not outright vote-buying. For example, in New Taipei City, where New Power Party (NPP) chair Huang Kuo-chang faces KMT incumbent Lee Ching-hua, there are rumors of vote-buying in rural Jinshan and Wanli districts. In Zhonghe district, there are rumors that KMT legislator Chang Ching-chung is subsidizing villagers’ travels. In Hsinchu, KMT campaign groups hosted huge banquets for their candidate Cheng Cheng-chien. Taichung mayor Lin Chia-lung (DPP) claims that he has discovered people promising to “hire 50 balloters for 1 vote,” covertly paying them a “travel stipend.” In Chiayi County, bribes for votes has become more intense even as more cases are exposed.
The second strategy is going home to vote. In the November 2014 elections, DPP candidates were able to emerge victorious from deadlocked races in Chiayi City and Yunlin County because so many students from central and southern Taiwan (which tends to favor the DPP) returned from studying in the north to vote at home. The DPP’s Twu Shiing-jer defeated the KMT’s Chen Yi-chen by 8,580 votes in Chiayi while Lee Chin-yung beat Chang Li-shan by a stunning 57,038 votes because of this..
The power of young people voting is immense. The youth vote may be the deciding variable in many tight central and southern election districts such as Taichung and Pingtung. It may also turn the tide in northern districts like Taipei, New Taipei City, and Taoyuan.
The final strategy is to concentrate votes. There are two kinds of legislative elections in Taiwan. First is 79 seats for aborigines and specific districts, where voters directly choose candidates. The second is 34 at-large seats, allocated based on the proportion of votes each party receives. A party must receive at least 5% of the vote to win any at-large seats.
Political participation has exploded in Taiwan this year, with 18 competing political parties. Between the DPP, NPP, Green Party and Social Democratic Party Coalition, and Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU), there are four pan-Green parties. Since the latter two are unlikely to pass the 5% threshold, this could result in wasted votes. Although the NPP will likely reach the 5% minimum, it has only named 6 at-large legislative candidates, meaning it would not be able to fill all its seats if it win more than 6. Facing these conditions, it is no wonder that Tsai Ing-wen is encouraging voters to focus their votes on the DPP in order to maximize the number of legislative seats the pan-Green coalition can win.
If the strategies of opposing vote-buying, going home to vote, and concentrating votes is effective, the DPP may gain 57 legislative seats or more, bringing its total to 60-62 seats. Furthermore, the NPP may win 6-7 seats. Compared to the 43 seats won by the DPP-TSU coalition in 2012, the DPP-NPP coalition may win a historic victory with 66-69 seats.
Under current circumstances, if youth vote in large numbers, the KMT may face an unprecedented defeat at 38-40 seats, a drastic drop from the 64 it won in 2012. Though the KMT originally figured it could win at least 12 at-large seats, now it looks like it may win as few as 8-10, setting a historic low record.
Unfortunately for KMT presidential candidate Eric Chu, who insisted on replacing former KMT candidate Hung Hsiu-chu, he has not been able to overcome the failures of the Ma Ying-jeoh government, backlash from Hung’s supporters, discontent over the KMT’s at-large legislative candidate nominations, and running mate Jennifer Wang’s military housing speculation scandal. Another discouraging sign is the low enthusiasm among Taiwanese merchants in mainland China to return home to vote. Traditionally among the staunchest KMT supporters, as many as 320,000 Taiwanese merchants returned to vote in 2012. In 2016, it seems that even getting 100,000 back will be difficult.
After two debates and three forums, James Soong’s support has risen in polls and even tied with Chu’s on several occasions. This may further hurt Chu’s campaign prospects.
Though support for Soong and Chu is rising, there is little chance that either will outstrip Tsai. Voters also recognize that neither are likely to win, even if they drop one candidate in favor of the other. Soong perhaps has more sincere supporters, and together with the Minkuotang voters supporting his running mate Hsu Hsin-ying, he could garner 6-10% of the total votes. If Tsai wins 55-58%, then Chu would only win 32-39% of the vote. The difference between the two candidates could be as high as 16-26%! Compared to the 2008 election when Ma Ying-jeou beat opponent Frank Chang-ting Hsieh at 58% to 42% with a difference of 16%, the 2016 race between Chu and Tsai can very likely set a new record.
If the situation indeed unfolds this way, the KMT will be reduced to the smallest size in its history, while facing continuing intra-party struggle. Chu will have to resign as chair of the party, and Ma Ying-jeou will need to face the party’s reckoning. After the new session of the Legislative Yuan begins on Feb. 1, the DPP will likely propose new legislation on political parties, creating new challenges for the KMT.
Something else to watch for is whether Hung Hsiu-chu will become chair of the KMT, and if the KMT will split over cross-strait relations. This would not only shift the political landscape but shake up the entire Taiwanese party system.
This article was first published in Chinese on Jan. 12, 2016 by The Initium Media, a Hong Kong-based digital media company. Asia Times has translated it with permission with editing for brevity and clarity.
Translated for Asia Times by Mengxi Seeley