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Taiwan's Legislative Yuan Elections—Will the Second Shoe Drop?

December 01, 2004 // 2:30pm4:00pm
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Taiwan's Legislative Yuan elections scheduled for December 11, 2004, will provide a new opportunity to determine the power configuration in the island's parliament between the "Pan-Green" (the ruling Democratic Progressive Party and its ally Taiwan Solidarity Union) and the "Pan-Blue" (the opposition Kuomintang and the People First Party). Although the Democratic Progressive Party's (DPP) Chen Shui-bian was elected twice as president of the Republic of China (ROC), "Pan-Green" has never controlled a majority of seats in the Legislative Yuan. Now observers inside and outside Taiwan are wondering whether "Pan-Green" is likely to control the Legislative Yuan—dropping the second shoe—after this December's elections.

What are the significant differences, if any, between the two camps regarding Taiwan's economic development, social welfare, national identity, foreign diplomacy, defense strategy, and relations with China? What are the electoral advantages and disadvantages held by each of the two camps as they prepare for the December balloting? What are Beijing's possible responses to the election outcomes, and the implications for cross–Taiwan Strait relations? Does the United States have an interest in seeing one side or the other prevail in this election?
At a December 1 seminar hosted by the Woodrow Wilson Center's Asia Program, four speakers discussed Taiwan's parliamentary election and its implications for Washington-Beijing-Taipei relations. Two of them, Friedman and Wang, spoke on the same topic at a Capitol Hill breakfast meeting for congressional staff the following morning.

Friedman argued that Taiwan's political democratization, while ending an ethnic minority dictatorship, has not created a power structure dominated by an ethnic majority represented by the ruling DPP. This phenomenon would be more likely to appear under a "single member parliamentary district" and "first past the post"(FPP) electoral system. However, Taiwan's "multi-member district" and "single nontransferable voting" system has provided electoral advantages to the opposition Kuomintang and the People First Party (PFP). In addition, the rise of China and its hostility toward the DPP may also help Pan-Blue to win the forthcoming elections. Friedman predicted that Pan-Blue might continue to control a bare majority of seats in the Legislative Yuan.

Lynch contended, on the other hand, that Pan-Green has benefited more from Taiwan's electoral system than Pan-Blue because it has performed better in selecting disciplined candidates and ensuring evenly distributed votes for them in a given district. While Pan-Green and Pan-Blue have similar policies on economic development and social welfare issues, they are fundamentally different on the national identity issue. Pan-Green is committed to "de-Sinification" through reducing the amount of Chinese history and literature in high school textbooks and replacing the current "Chinese constitution" with a charter appropriate to Taiwan. In contrast, Pan-Blue urges voters to "defend the Republic of China." Lynch predicted that Beijing would refuse to talk to Taipei regardless of which camp wins, even though the Greens enjoy the nationalist credentials, and therefore the political strength to negotiate with China.

Wang maintained that the on-going election campaign has not focused on substantive socio-economic policy issues, but have shifted voters' attention to emotional political issues. Such issues initiated by the DPP and President Chen Shui-bian include whether Pan-Blue attempted to stage a "soft coup"—asking several senior military officers to take early retirement or sick leave to protest Chen's "unfair" reelection in March 2004—and whether the Kuomintang should change its party emblem that is similar to ROC's national emblem. Wang observed the evolving national identity in Taiwan over the past decade, with more people (40 percent) now clearly identifying themselves as Taiwanese than those (less than 10 percent) as Chinese. In addition, the DPP enjoys higher party preference than the KMT or the PFP among voters. Wang agreed with Lynch that Pan-Green might win more seats than Pan-Blue in the new Legislative Yuan. He expected that President Chen will continue constitutional reform to enhance efficient governance while embracing the long-term goal of making Taiwan a normal state.

Brown offered comments on the remarks presented by the above three speakers at the end of the seminar. He agreed with Friedman that President Chen is a shrewd domestic politician while lacking international vision, but doubted that Pan-Blue has gained advantage from the current electoral system. According to Brown, the DPP gained only one-third of the votes but obtained 41 percent of the seats in the 2001 Legislative Yuan elections. After this December's elections, Pan-Green may control a modest majority of seats in Taiwan's parliament, without dramatically shifting the political configuration. Brown argued that President Chen may not really want to negotiate with Beijing, even though Pan-Green seems in a better position than Pan-Blue to deal with China, as Lynch suggested. While agreeing with Wang that this has been an "issueless campaign," Brown attributed this phenomenon to the multi-member district system, which has stimulated heated intra-party competition for the same bank of votes and thus reduced the role of party identity in this December's elections.

While most speakers agreed that Pan-Green is likely to control the Legislative Yuan after the election, they did not expect a dramatic change in Taiwan domestic politics and foreign policies. In terms of the U.S. interest regarding the electoral outcome, Freidman suggested that Taiwan needs a strong opposition—Pan-Blue—to check the ruling DPP from taking provocative actions, and Lynch argued that a strong Pan-Green might encourage President Chen to move to the political middle ground. Despite their different expectations and preferences, their common point was that a democratic Taiwan led by politicians with shrewd international vision concurs with the U.S. interest.

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