The 8th Legislative Yuan and the blue-green divide

The joint presidential and legislative elections in Taiwan are over and it is time to sum up the results. Without doubt, there will be plenty of opinions why the result turned out the way it did. The presidential election seemed to have overshadowed the legislative ones in terms of visibility, but the legislative elections were equally important. As Dafydd Fell pointed out in November, the legislative elections were neglected, especially in media, but as the Chen Shui-bian era showed, having a presidency “besieged” by a Blue-dominated legislature was no big gain. The discontent with the DPP that resulted in resounding defeat in 2008 can be partly attributed to administrative inefficiency while perceptions of DPP’s presidency as corrupt helped the KMT avoid its share of responsibility. In the light of this experience, it is surprising that the DPP did not put more effort in to trying to secure a legislative majority. A Ma Ying-jeou checked by DPP-dominated legislature would have been a better outcome for the DPP than Tsai Ing-wen as president with a “hostile” KMT legislative majority.

There are few basic facts about the elections: the KMT won and the DPP lost. The KMT performed worse than in 2008 but that was generally expected. The DPP performed far better than in 2008 (and that was generally expected too), but not well enough to secure the presidency and/or legislative majority. The People First Party (PFP) was very near to total failure in its pursuit of some seats in the Legislative Yuan, while scoring only slightly over the 5% threshold on legislators-at-large list (PR district) that secured them 2 seats (in addition to 1 seat in districts). However, what has been largely left unnoticed is the surprisingly good performance of the Taiwan Solidarity Union  (TSU), with support for the nationwide party list reaching almost 10%.

Support for respective political parties on legislators-at-large list serves as an important indicator for the real party preference in Taiwan’s society. The first reason is that single nationwide district that is big enough (34 seats in this case) generally produces fairly proportional results even if there is an entry threshold, which in Taiwan is 5% of votes, provided that not too many votes are “wasted” below the threshold. According to the CEC, this was the case for only slightly more than 6% of votes. The second reason is that single-mandate (FPTP) districts, through which 73 (or 2/3 of total LY seats) legislators are elected, typically produces significant disproportion and so they did this time, although to a lesser extent than in 2008. Additionally, smaller parties, including PFP and TSU, did not compete in single-mandate districts on large scale because of their slim chances of getting elected. The PFP did field a few candidates, but failed, and their only seat from districts is 1 of the 6 reserved for aborigines that are selected under the old SNTV system. The following table offers a breakdown of the legislators-at-large results.

The table shows what the overall results (that take into account the total allocation of mandates) are hiding. In terms of total number of seats, the KMT still enjoys a comfortable majority with 64 legislators (57 out of 113 is needed for a majority), although during last election term several KMT legislators lost their seat for vote-buying and other violations. Should that situation repeat, KMT will have serious reason to worry. However, the main message is that the pan-green camp is back in legislature and that when support in votes is considered it is almost as strong as the KMT. In 2008, DPP was left alone in despair and its junior partner TSU disappeared from the LY benches. Yet, in 2012, the TSU made an impressive 9.6% return.

Further research on the election results will most likely reveal that TSU made it to LY because a significant number of DPP supporters split their votes between the DPP (presidential elections, FPTP districts) and the TSU (PR district). The TSU is the more radical of the two parties in the green camp when it comes to the independence issue and growing concern on the part of the population that Taiwan is getting too close to China could be a contributing factor for casting a ballot for TSU. DPP voters also heeded the call from Tsai Ing-wen after she expressed support for the TSU and hoped that the party would exceed the needed 5%. In any case,voters that supported TSU took a leap of faith since it was far from certain that their votes will not get lost under the threshold. This is very different from strategic voting on the part of PFP supporters who voted for Ma knowing that their presidential candidate had no real chance. It is a question whether the DPP benefited from the TSU’s performance or not. However, as long as the pan-green coalition remains united, it is less relevant whether DPP could have had 3 seats more.

On a blue-green divide axis, it seems that the green camp re-emerged united in the LY whereas cooperation between the KMT and PFP cannot be taken for granted. The KMT does not need the PFP and the PFP will gain little from cooperation with the KMT unless it is ready to concede defeat and let itself absorb (back) into the KMT. An important lesson for the green camp is that both parties can benefit from mutual cooperation. In this regard there is a striking contrast between TSU and PFP that alienated its pan-blue partner by fielding its own candidate for president, hoping it would boost its performance in the LY elections only to end up with the same number of seats as the remarkably less visible TSU.

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