What to Expect in the 2012 Legislative Yuan Election?

Next year’s Legislative Yuan election will be the second under a two-vote mixed member system, where legislators are elected in two tiers: 73 seats by single member districts (SMDs) alongside 34 seats delegated by proportional representation (PR). An additional six seats are delegated by two multiseat aboriginal lists. What should we expect this time around?

Although the 2008 election was a landslide victory for the KMT in terms of seats (72%, slightly more if coalitional partners are included), evidence both in Taiwan and in mixed systems elsewhere provide some insight into probable outcomes.

Since the two tiers are not linked (that is voting in one does not directly affect the other), the expectation is that over time support beyond the two strongest candidates or parties will diminish. District evidence in Taiwan already shows voters defecting towards stronger, usually DPP- or KMT-affiliated candidates, with less than five percent of the vote in SMD races for candidates beyond the top two in 2008. Evidence from mixed member elections since 1990 finds that across almost all see a similar reduction over time, with the East Asian cases (Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan) appearing particularly hostile to smaller parties in district races.  The five percent threshold for party list representation (a common threshold in mixed systems) further limits the chances of smaller parties, as evidenced by the both the New Party (NP) and Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) failing to garner a single seat.

The KMT success lies largely in factors beyond these institutional factors however. Scandals associated with the DPP drove swing voters towards the KMT.  A primary system further disadvantaged the DPP in areas that should have been highly competitive. While the KMT formula used public opinion polls and party member polling, the DPP only polled those self-identifying as “green”, and in doing so arguably nominated candidates more extreme than the median swing voter.

The question remains have parties learned? The KMT clearly do not expect a repeat of 2008. Smaller parties have little incentive to exhaust limited resources in most district races, but potentially can eke out party list seats. It also appears that the DPP has learned from 2008, opting towards candidates not as closely identified as deep green. Meanwhile if the DPP and TSU followed the suggestions of former president Chen Shui-bian and ran a unified party list similar to the coordination among the KMT and the People’s First Party (PFP), the pan-green coalition potentially would pick up an additional list seat.

Predicting any election months in advance is tricky business, but evidence of voter and party adaptation suggest that the electoral system itself does not prevent a greater balance in party representation.

Tim Rich is a PhD Candidate at Indiana University, working on Taiwan and South Korea.  He can be reached at tsrich@indiana.edu