Five Things to Look for on Election Day

No, I’m not seeking a prize for originality here.

1. Presidential votes. Because the winner is decided by popular vote, we need to pay attention to how many votes each candidate receives in each district. Although the electoral geography is quite distinct in the north and south, no candidate can afford to disregard a district of any size. I will provide data on Saturday comparing district level returns for the last four presidential elections. As soon as the returns come in, we should get a pretty good indication of how competitive its going to be. In 2008 Ma won with 58.45% of the vote. A repeat is improbable. Depending on what happens to the Soong vote (see below), expect this election to be much closer, probably not approaching the 2004 race, which was decided by 0.2%, but close. The crucial battleground will be in central Taiwan.

2. Legislative seats. In 2008, the KMT won 71 seats (86 with their allies) to the DPP’s 27. The KMT has many advantages at this level, marshaling its vast financial resources and patronage networks. But the DPP will perform much better this time. It won’t get a majority, but it could approach parity, increasing the importance of the PFP’s performance. Soong’s motivation for standing for president appears to have been to increase momentum for his PFP legislative candidates and if they win a handful of seats, he could put himself in position to demand a Cabinet post in return for support in the legislature. The DPP was late to emphasize the legislature as a mechanism for checking KMT power; but after its experience of divided government during the Chen Shui-bian era, the number of seats in the legislature has increased in importance for the party. Depending on the final distribution of seats, a second term for Ma is likely to be much more constrained with regard to China policy. A Tsai presidency facing a KMT parliamentary majority of any notable size will likely be hamstrung from the start. The close distribution of legislative seats that many are predicting, could force the two blocs to deal with each other to a greater extent than in the past.

3. What happens to Soong’s support? In the opinion polls prior to the blackout, Soong was polling between 5 and 10%. I would be surprised if this ‘protest vote’ registered similar numbers in the actual poll. How much of Soong’s support will vote for him? I’d guess 3-4%. If he gets much more than that, Ma could be in jeopardy. Of those who previously registered support for Soong but “change their minds” at the last minute, I expect that the majority will vote for Ma; but a proportion will abstain, which benefits Tsai. The more votes Soong gets, all the better to leverage whatever he can from the number of seats PFP legislative candidates win. Personally, I’m surprised that Soong has come this far. I imagined that he would have done a deal with the KMT already. However, there is also personal animosity between Soong and Ma from way back. And, despite being cast as a “deep blue”, Soong is highly “pragmatic” and would have no qualms working with the DPP.

4. Idiosyncrasies. There is a range of things that could effect the election. There is likely to be rumblings about vote buying and fraud. Gambling rackets will no doubt be uncovered. There will be finger pointing and threats of lawsuits. Legislative candidates can face financial ruin, and incumbents with immunity go to jail,  if they lose, so its gloves off. There will be excuses for poor performance. The weather or proximity to Chinese New Year and exams will be blamed. Some voters won’t get to the polls because of traffic and this will become a conspiracy theory. Parties will blame the concurrent holding of the two elections and old arguments will be invoked. There will doubtless be some confusion in vote counting (voters have to make three choices-local and at-large legislators and the president), and demand for recounts. Hopefully there won’t be anything like the shooting of candidates (Chen Shui-bian, Shaun Lien) or fighting at the polling station.

5. How will the losers react? During the three presidential campaigns I witnessed in Taiwan, I was frequently informed that if the DPP lost, their supporters would respond with violence. In the event, the violent losers were the KMT-protesting against their own party in 2000, and against Chen following defeat in the 2004 election. Tsai Ing-wen has already outperformed expectations. That she is competitive against an incumbent with all of Ma’s advantages, and in light of the disarray the DPP was in after 2008, is nothing short of miraculous. I don’t say that DPP supporters will not be devastated if she doesn’t win the presidency, but from the greens that I have talked to, they know they are over-performing underdogs, and over-performing underdogs seldom react badly to defeat. The KMT on the other hand has history of reacting badly to defeat. As close as the race is, if Ma loses it will be a surprise; to KMT supporters it will be a desperate shock. I am pretty sure, no certain, that if Tsai wins, the KMT will demand a recount or launch a legal challenge or something. Sad to say that I wouldn’t be shocked to see a repeat of the disgraceful reaction to defeat in 2004.

Mail me at, follow me on Twitter @jonlsullivan, or access my papers at If you are in Taiwan or an armchair analyst, please email or Tweet me your observations or thoughts when I live blog election day. Will be live from 6am GMT (2pm Taiwan time) on Jan 14th until the final results are known.