Implications of the 2010 Municipal Elections for the 2012 Legislative Elections

Political scientists have at least three reasons to eagerly look forward to the 2012 presidential and legislative elections in Taiwan. Firstly, it will be the second time under the new electoral system, wherein the Legislative Yuan (LY)  has move from the Single Non-Transferable Vote-centered (SNTV) system to a mixed one with the majority of deputies elected through single mandate FPTP districts (73 out of 113, or 65%). It will be interesting what lessons the parties have learned from previous elections, if any at all. Secondly, for the very first time both major elections will take place on the same day. Thirdly, elections in Taiwan draw a lot of excitement in any case.

This post offers a few observations from the 2010 municipal elections (with emphasis on mayoral elections) and their implications for the forthcoming legislative elections. The significance of municipal elections in 2010 stems from the high voter turnout. In total, more than 7.5 million people (turnout exceeded 70% in all 5 districts) cast their votes in 4 newly formed special municipalities (New Taipei City, Greater Taichung, Greater Tainan and Greater Kaohsiung) and in Taipei City. This is an impressive number considering that the turnout for 2008 presidential elections was 13.2 million people (76.3% turnout) and 10 million for the 2008 legislative elections (turnout slightly over 58%).

Results in 2010 appear at first sight to reveal a Kuomintang (KMT) win. If looked at as a football match then victory was narrow, KMT defeating the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) 3:2. Yet, a more detailed look shows that the KMT camp had no reason to be overly excited. On a city council election level the match was tied since both big parties gained 130 seats.  However, in council elections representatives of smaller parties and independents usually score better than on the national level as the current electoral system to LY is massively disadvantageous for small parties. This makes these results less relevant compared to mayoral elections that were to a large extent 2-party business and one can reasonably predict that it is what LY elections will look like.

The real difference comes with the number of votes in the mayoral elections. The KMT got 3.37 million (or 44.5%) votes, while the DPP received 3.77 million. (or 49.9%). Just a quick look at the 2008 election results shows the extent of change in DPP’s electoral performance. In the 2008 LY elections the DPP received roughly 3.8 million (or 39%) votes and only 24% of seats (disproportionate effect of the newly enacted system) compared to KMT’s 5.3 million (or 53.5%) votes which secured them 72% of the seats.

A further look into each of the 5 districts reveals that Taipei remained strongly blue (KMT 55.7%, DPP 43.8%) and Tainan (KMT 39.6%, DPP 60.4%) and Kaohsiung (KMT 20.5%, DPP 52.8%) confirmed their status as pan-green strongholds. However, the KMT had to undertake fierce battles to claim victories in both Taichung (KMT 51%, DPP 49%) and New Taipei City (KMT 52.6%, DPP 47.4%). This means that the Kuomintang scored more goals but their possession was unimpressive, while the DPP’s forwards pressed hard into the KMT’s defense. Surely, goals are what matters the most in a football match, but it would be a huge mistake to become complacent after such a narrow contest, especially when the main rival is on the rise.

The overall message is clear: last year’s elections confirmed that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is back in the game as a formidable challenger to the Kuomintang’s position and has moved on from the 2008 debacle. At the time this was written, National Chengchi University’s project Exchange of Future Events was predicting that the KMT will eventually win 60 seats (or 53%); less than the 81 held after 2008 but still a majority.

Michal Thim is currently enrolled in the International Master‘s Program in Asia-Pacific Studies at National Chengchi University in Taipei and research fellow at the Prague-based foreign policy think tank, Association for International Affairs.