An Analysis of the Taiwan Legislative Yuan Elections

Was this a debacle for the Democratic Progressive Party?

The DPP party chairman Chen Shui-bian predicted as many as 50 seats for the DPP with 40 as the minimum.  Instead, the actual count was 27 seats.  This is a debacle by any measure.  On the same night, Chen Shui-bian resigned as party chairman.

So how did this happen?

A quick (but not necessarily scientific poll) by Apple Daily yielded:

Q. Who is responsible for the DPP debacle in the Legislative Yuan elections?
82%: Chen Shui-bian, whose eight years as president were truly bad
  6%: Minister of Education Tu Cheng-sheng and Ministry of Education secretary-general Chuang Kuo-yung, because they talked too much
  5%: The DPP candidates themselves, because their own performances had been poor
  0%: Frank Hsieh, because this presidential candidate did not campaign hard enough
  6%: Don't know/no opinion

I don't actually agree that this election was a referendum on the eight-year term of President Chen Shui-bian.  Instead, I believe that this was about Chen Shui-bian's performance in his other role as the DPP party chairman in charge of these elections.  On the day before the elections, Chen let slipped a comment: "I hope that we can put all the hatred aside after the election tomorrow."

What was he referring to?  In the lead-up to these elections, the government led by President Chen Shui-bian and the Democratic Progressive Party led by Chairman Chen Shui-bian took a series of actions that were designed to inflame and incite hatred, including:

During the process, the key figures were government officials such as Government Information Officer minister Shieh Jhy-wey, Minister of Education Tu Cheng-sheng and Ministry of Education secretary-general Chuang Kuo-yong, who were featured prominently on the media with their sayings (such as calling KMT presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou 'gay' and 'sissy').  The media headlines were dominated by these types of reports, instead of issues that the people really care about.  These issues were also transparently part of the election tactics, because they somehow showed up right before the elections but were nowhere prominent previously.

But if inflammatory tactics have always worked for the DPP in the past, then why not this time?

The difference is the change in the Legislative Yuan election system.  In previous elections, there were 225 seats in the Legislative Yuan and many districts can have more than one representative.  This means that one can gain a seat by corralling a hardcore group of supporters (say, 35%) and be elected.  In the case of Li Ao, he got in with 6% of the votes in his district.  In the 2008 Legislative Yuan, the system has been changed to a single representative in each of 79 districts.  Thus, this is a first-past-the-post system in which 35% is most likely not good enough to win a seat.

In certain districts such as Tainan, the DPP has a majority anyway and therefore they are not troubled by the change in system.  But in the majority of the districts, neither the KMT nor the DPP has a majority.  So each can only win by getting the independent voters on their side.

Generically speaking, on the average, the distribution by party identification in Taiwan is as follows:

Most of the time, pan-blues will vote for pan-blue candidates and pan-greens will vote for pan-green candidates.  There is no way to change their minds.  Therefore, the key here is to win the middle 40%.  In the case of the pan-blue candidates, they need to win 15% of the 40% in the middle.  In the case of the pan-green candidates, they need to win 25% of the 40% in the middle.  Therefore, the pan-greens will have to work harder.

How to win the 40% in the middle?  You need to deal with their issues and concerns, which are mostly social, economic and livelihood.  By definition, these independents don't care about political partisanship.  So, what is for sure is that they don't want to hear about name rectifications, postage stamps saying UN for Taiwan, textbook revisions, whether German women think Ma Ying-jeou is manly, and so on.  Yet, this was what dominated the media headlines.

At first, the KMT danced to the tune of the DPP.  When the DPP proposed the referendum for Taiwan to enter the UN, they proposed a different referendum for the Republic of China to rejoin the UN.  When the DPP proposed the referendum on KMT party assets, they proposed an anti-corruption referendum that was aimed at the First Family and associates.  Then they got embroiled over the procedural issues of one-stage versus two-stage balloting/voting.  Finally, they wised up and simply declared: "The referenda are non-issues brought up for election purposes.  So please don't ask for referendum ballots."  Instead of blowing up in rage, the pan-blue side was represented by people like Demos Chiang (see A Star Blogger Is Born), a member of the Chiang family who does not even regard himself as pan-blue, taking up the media headlines.

In all, the voting rate was about 58% (among all voters) for the Legislative Yuan elections.  For the two referenda, the voting rate was about 26% (among all voters).  Among those who voted on election day, less than half picked up the referenda ballots.  The message is clear that the voters did not think that the "party assets" and "anti-corruption" referenda were really meaningful issues.

The election tactics directed by DPP party chairman Chen Shui-bian were aimed at consolidating the deep-green base.  That would guarantee a solid 25%.  However, these election tactics also alienated the independents.  During the last days before the elections, Ministry of Education secretary-general Chuang Kuo-yong was a popular speaker at DPP campaign rallies, as the crowds cheered wildly when he spoke.  But each time he showed up, more independents got scared away.

Why were the DPP and its chairman not aware or concerned about the situation?  For one, Chen Shui-bian stated that he did not believe in the public opinion polls.  In fact, he said that the election results this time will lead to a revision about how public opinion polls will be interpreted in the future.  This is probably premised upon that even if the public opinion polls are right, the DPP was going to invoke the "crisis" card at the last moment.  This is a call to the voters not to give unchecked power to the KMT, who might go and do very bad things (such as selling Taiwan to China) afterwards.  That is to say, even if you think that we stink, you will have to hold your noses and vote for us for the greater good.  The effect of that last-minute "crisis" card would not be reflected in any public opinion polls taken earlier.  But then it was also a call based upon faith and belief, and its shallowness may actually repel more independents.

So what happened in the end"?  In the district elections, the KMT got 54.5% of the votes and the DPP got 38.2%.  In the political party election, the KMT got 51.2% of the votes and the DPP got 36.9%.

This means that the KMT got 35% of the pan-blues and another 18% from the independents, while the DPP got 25% of the pan-greens and 12% of the independents.  Another 10% of all votes went to the other parties.  In order to win, the DPP needed to win a majority (and not a minority) of the independents.  They failed.  This is a very simple story.  If blame is to be assigned, it goes to the DPP party chairman Chen Shui-bian who was ultimately in charge of the campaign issues and tactics.  The DPP issues and tactics did not appeal to enough independent voters.

Next up is the presidential election in March.  What does the DPP presidential candidate Frank Hsieh have to do to win?  There are only two presidential candidates, and so he needs to get past 50% to win.  So the arithmetic is that he needs to secure his 25% pan-green base and then get 25% out of 40% independents.  In order to win those independents, he needs to position himself more towards the middle and away from the deep-green end.

First of all, there is the question of Frank Hsieh answering to the Legislative Yuan election results.  As a presidential candidate, he clearly had an interest because he would have to deal with the Legislative Yuan someday if he were elected. Here is the question:  Was Frank Hsieh aware of the train wreck that was coming down the road in the Legislative Yuan elections?  If he replies NO, then his judgement is questionable and he really does not understand what people (especially the independents) think.  If he replies YES, then why didn't he say or do anything?  Was he too afraid of Chen Shui-bian?  Or was he afraid of upsetting the party faithful?  Did he not have the moral courage to say and do the right thing?  In any case, how can this person serve as president when he is beholden to party politics?

Irrespective of the answer to that question, Frank Hsieh can only move towards the middle by disavowing the DPP tactics during the Legislative Yuan elections.  For example, will he disavow the UN referendum, or will he continue to push it?  Just about everybody knows that this is a non-issue that will vanish immediately after the presidential election.  It is a test of his integrity to say thHsieh he will waffle -- he will neither disavow the UN for Taiwan referendum nor promote it.  He will just pretend that it isn't there, or simply say that this is something for the people to decide.

If Frank Hsieh disavows Chen Shui-bian, he may win a few more independent votes but he will be alienating the deep-green base.  But that shouldn't matter, because Frank Hsieh has them triangulated -- they can vote for him while holding their noses to avoid the stench; or they can stay home to watch Ma Ying-jeou's win on television; or they can vote for Ma Ying-jeou for an even bigger margin; or they can all move to Japan.  The deep-green camp can cry foul and start another party but that won't happen in this election.  The point is to win this election, here and now.  Is Frank Hsieh up for this?  Or will he just go down by keeping a stiff upper lip and lose the independent vote?

Some Hong Kong bloggers were observing the Taiwan elections and expressed their jealousy at the existence of free choice for the people of Taiwan.  For the presidential election, the people of Taiwan will have two grim choices again:

Of course, I am joking here.  The real choice is (1) Frank Hsieh; or (2) Ma Ying-jeou.  The above two statements are based upon the narratives from various political party propagandists.  Voters will have to create their own narratives (due to and in spite of the propaganda) and decide for themselves.