Taiwan's 2008 Legislative Yuan Elections: Lesson One, in Search of an Adequate System

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Monday January 14, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

As the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) regroups after its huge defeat in Taiwan's January 12 Legislative Yuan elections there are several things that its members should realize for perspective. First the defeat became larger in reality than it should have been because of the inadequacies of the electoral system. This does not excuse other faults and poor strategies of the DPP but it does give a more appropriate perspective. No election system is perfect and this is the first time that the new system for the Legislative Yuan was used, but it quickly proved in need of restructuring if Taiwan's citizens are to have proper representation.

Examine the voting results. The DPP received almost 37 per cent of the party vote, but only got 24 per cent representation in the seats of the Legislative Yuan. They had a disproportionate loss of 13 per cent. The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) on the other hand received a little over 51 per cent of the party vote but they got almost 72 per cent representation in the seats of the Legislative Yuan. They had a disproportionate gain of 21 per cent. If you match the DPP's disproportionate loss with the KMT's disproportionate gain, it shows that the disproportion created by the system is 34 per cent of the seats in the Legislative Yuan. The DPP was not the only one who suffered from the new system. Independent parties (combined) gained over 11 per cent of the party vote but they got 2 seats in the Legislative Yuan. The Non-Partisan Solidarity Union in contrast scored the largest gain. They did not even have one per cent of the party vote, yet they got 3 seats in the Legislative Yuan.

Translate this into numbers and it is more easily grasped. In round numbers there were 17,300,000 eligible voters and 73 districts. At this point if all districts were equally proportioned (which of course they are not) there would be one representative legislator for every 237,000 voters. While the districts have a winner take all result from their voting, to balance this, the under-represented votes of those who lost in each winner take all district participate in selecting seats for 34 legislators at large. These are proportionately selected from the total votes cast for a particular party (separate ballot). The importance of the legislator at large ballot is shown by the unusual fact that the DPP received more legislator at large seats (14) than they did from elected district legislators (13). Six additional legislators are also allowed for the aboriginal voters.

This is how it breaks down.

Original 73 Districts (73 seats/17,300,000 votes) one seat for every 237,000 voters.

Adjusted Legislature (113 seats/17,300,000 votes) one seat for every 153,097 voters.

That is the alleged ideal. However, when there is a low voter turn out, the representation of seats per voters changes and is further adjusted. In this election there were approximately 9,797,573 votes cast and thus the following result.

Low Voter Turn Out (113 seats/9,797,573 votes) one seat for 86,704 voters.

Now look at a down and dirty view of the actual way the results came out and the disparities of representation become clearer.

Non-Partisan Solidarity Union: (3 seats/ 88,527 votes) one seat for every 29, 509 voters.

KMT (81 seats/5,010,801 votes) one seat for every 61,861 voters.

DPP (27 seats/3,610,106 votes) one seat for every 133,707 voters.

All other parties (2seats/1,091,139 votes) one seat for every 545,569 voters.

The 6 aboriginal seats are represented in the above parties, but there is also a disproportionate factor here. Aboriginals (6 seats/114,212 votes) one seat for every 19,035 voters.

The inequality is also seen in districts that are disproportionately small, as the following:

Lienchiang County, one seat for 2,182 voters.

Kinmen County, one seat for 9,912 voters.

Penghu County, one seat for 19,584 voters.

Taitung County, one seat for 34,794 voters.

In the best of all worlds, the ideal proportion in the recent January 12 election representation should be one seat for every 86,704 voters.

The aboriginals came out far and above all others. If the aboriginals were smart, they would form an aboriginal party or at least an aboriginal caucus so that their current guaranteed seats would benefit them and not some other party. Next the Non-Partisan Solidarity Union made off like bandits with 3 seats. The KMT also received a disproportionate share and theirs is the more important because this gives them a powerful 2/3 majority in the Legislative Yuan, and so both control and responsibility for any progress.

The DPP suffered most as a major party; with approximately 37 per cent of the vote, they should have at least had enough seats to prevent the over two-thirds representation the KMT gained in the legislature. The remaining independents, on the other hand, suffered also in an extreme way (one seat for every 545,569 voters) and so they have little or no representation. With one ninth of the votes cast, they should roughly have 12 seats instead of 2. Obviously, a legislative election cannot accommodate every splinter group but with over one million combined votes, these disparate groups should find a common ground of unification to give them better representation.

No system is perfect, and all systems will give some disproportionate advantage in seats to one party or another. The goal is to minimize this. Since all parties agreed to the current system (whether hastily or not) they also can blame no one but themselves. One does wonder, however, why no one did the math when the system was drawn up. The only saving grade is that this is a democracy and not a dictatorship. Despite the winner take all aspect of each district, it does not mean winner take all for the country. The winners do not have the right to silence opposition as happens in other countries like the People's Republic of China.

What should be learned? First each party must understand the new system and see the importance of each district. New systems demand new tactics and new strategies. Second, a grass roots neighborhood by neighborhood representation is needed. The new legislators will now be beholden to those who put them there. Finally there is even the fact that the system already shows a need of revamping. In their victory announcement, the KMT said that they would not abuse the power of having over a 2/3 majority despite it being non-representative. Whether that promise was fake and for show or not, a quick test of the sincerity of the KMT's promise to forego abuse would be a sincere effort to make the system more representative and so correct the imbalance and lack of proportionate representation. Any takers out there?