Taiwan's 2008 Legislative Yuan Elections: Lesson 2, Examining the McGovern Factor

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Tuesday January 15, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

After the overwhelming and disproportionate defeat of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in the January 12 Legislative Yuan elections, many DPP party members and supporters were obviously disheartened. Certainly if one looked at a district by district color-coded map of post election Taiwan, it was a sea of blue with a few islands of green. Despite this, party members need to remember that Taiwan is a democracy and not a totalitarian state; therefore, a defeat even if devastating, is never the end of the road. The DPP must in other words develop a longer term perspective and examine what can be called the McGovern Factor.

In the United States' 1972 Presidential Elections, George McGovern (Democrat) running against Richard Nixon (Republican) suffered a tremendous defeat. Out of 520 Electoral College votes, McGovern only got 17; out of 50 states in the Union, McGovern captured only one (Massachusetts) along with the District of Columbia. One could hardly have a more devastating defeat. Yet ironically, four years later, the Democrats would win the presidency under Jimmy Carter. Many factors would be involved in this remarkable turnabout, the most notable no doubt being that of Watergate, nevertheless it also points out a common factor in mature democracies. Party loyalties are not always hard and fast and there are a certain percentage of independent voters who respond to performance and not past ties. This combination can bring about quick and unexpected changes when least expected. Such conditions already exist in Taiwan.

While Taiwan is still a developing democracy, past elections have already demonstrated that it does have a sizable percentage of light green and light blue as well as independent voters who will not always follow a party line. The presence of this group is more easily evident when there is a large voter turn-out in Taiwan, but like any voters, they must be both courted and convinced.

How this is to be done is what the DPP needs to assess. They should first realize as was mentioned in the previous post that the recent devastating results were not so much a large voter defection as they were a defect in the system. This does not change matters but it does affect strategy considerations.

Another factor that needs to be utilized in the DPP's favor is the fact that the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) with more than a 2/3 majority now has complete and obvious control and responsibility for the actions and results of the Legislative Yuan. I have always argued in the past that the real power in the country moved to the Legislative Yuan after 1996. Now, no matter who is president, the 2/3 majority of the Legislative Yuan can override and railroad through anything, it wants. If things go bad, it can blame no one but itself.

In the past, the Pan-blue media hid the fact of the blue controlled Legislative Yuan and consistently blamed President Chen Shui-bian for the paralysis of the country. In reality, the paralysis was even then more the fault of the pan-blue controlled Legislative Yuan than that of the president. Now however, to paraphrase a quote from the 1970s neither the KMT nor the United States nor Beijing will have President Chen Shui-bian to kick around anymore. They all will have to bear their true responsibility for the results of their actions. Similarly, responsibility for the country's progress or lack of it; its growth or demise can no longer be avoided by the KMT.

The DPP faces an uphill battle and obviously future changes are not guaranteed, nor can they be expected; they must be worked for. But the DPP has overcome greater odds in the past when they were still under the influence of the effects of martial law and a dictatorial one-party state. The ball in this regard, is in the DPP's court; they must dig deep into the inspiration and unity that helped them in the past, and they must be aware of the advantages that are still available to them.