Written by Timothy S. Rich.
If pre-election surveys are any indication, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), for the first time, has a realistic chance of gaining a majority within the Legislative Yuan. While the DPP held the presidency from 2000-2008, at no point has the party got anywhere near a majority in the legislature. Since democratization, the DPP’s seat share peaked in 2004 at 39.6%, in part helped by divisions within the pan-blue coalition. In 2008, the first election under the new mixed electoral system, the DPP managed only 23.9% of the vote, hurt by a backlash to Chen Shui-bian and misunderstandings about the new electoral system. Four years later the DPP electoral fortunes improved (35.4% of seats).
So what has changed since 2012? As the 2014 local elections showed, anti-KMT sentiment stemming from multiple sources (ECFA, the Sunflower Movement etc.) has greatly aided the DPP. Furthermore, the DPP has been particularly effective at repositioning itself as a moderate and viable alternative to the KMT, helped by the rise of Taiwanese identity over the last eight years. Combining this with the turmoil within the KMT as the party dealt with replacing its original presidential candidate Hung Hsiu-Chu, polling numbers showing the DPP presidential Tsai Ing-wen with a comfortable lead. 2016 appears to be a perfect storm for the DPP in terms of the legislative races.
With all that said, a majority in the Legislative Yuan may still be an uphill battle for the DPP. As I have mentioned before, Taiwan has an unusually small legislature for a population of its size, a result of 2005 reforms that cut the number of seats in half. Of the 113 seats, six are allocated in two three-person constituencies for aboriginal votes, seats in which the DPP remains uncompetitive. The 34 seats filled by proportional representation (PR) largely matches public support for the DPP overall. The decline in support for the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU), who won three PR seats in 2012, may lead to an additional seat or two for the DPP, although new entrants into the electoral competition, namely from the New Power Party (NPP), may cut into the DPP’s PR share.
Whereas the PR seats remain proportional to the DPP’s level of support nationally, the 73 single-member districts have been far less favorable to the DPP. If each district had roughly the same population, as required by US House seats, each district would represent would 310,000 citizens. However, since the 2005 reform required each county to receive at least on seat, several districts with populations well under 100,000 exist, a malapportionment that in many cases favors the KMT. Similarly, cities such as Tainan, a DPP stronghold, remain under-represented, receiving five seats for the city and county where apportionment would expect more like seven. Put in another way, the halving of seats with the 2005 reform left four counties with the same number of representatives as before (Taitung, Penghu, Kinmen, and Lienchang), whereas areas such as Hsinchu, Keeling, Yilan, and Yunlin now have three times the population per legislator as before. While the malapportionment does not exclusively benefit the KMT, it does create several districts which even under the perfect storm will remain KMT.
What does this mean for the DPP? A cursory analysis of available data suggests that even under rising DPP support, a majority in the Legislative Yuan is far from guaranteed. For the DPP to manage an outright majority, they must capture 58 seats. According to the Central Election Commission, the DPP opted not to run candidates in 13 districts. In the past two elections, the DPP captured 36.9% and 34.6% of the PR vote respectively. Taking an average of the polls available on Wikipedia as of December 6 would leave the DPP with 33.4% of the vote or 11 PR seats. For the sake of argument, if we assume that a national anti-KMT wave moves non-partisans towards the DPP and the PR vote hits 40%, this would generate at best 14 PR seats for the DPP. Thus, under the more optimistic view, and assuming that the aboriginal seats remain out of reach entirely, the DPP would need to capture 46 of the 60 districts in which they slated candidates. This also ignores the safe KMT districts in which the DPP still ran candidates. For example, Kinmen County is unlikely to ever go green. While the DPP nominated a candidate for 2016, the party only captured 1.6% of the vote in 2008 and did not run a candidate in 2012. To put into context, the DPP captured 27 districts in 2012 and 13 in 2008.
Unfortunately, polling data for the individual districts is limited and it may be too early to identify district trends. Furthermore, this quick analysis does not measure how the DPP or the KMT have fared in districts in the past. Even assuming that the DPP only ran in districts in which the party felt competitive (ignoring Kinmen for the moment), this would still require nearly doubling its best showing since the electoral reforms enacted in 2005. Of course, assuming Tsai Ing-wen maintains her double digit lead, a coattail effect may push many traditionally non-competitive districts towards the DPP. Most polls also still show a quarter to over a third of voters undecided regarding their district vote.
The 2016 elections may turn out to be the year of the DPP. If it does win both the executive and legislative races, this will provide opportunities for electoral reform, including the possibility of increasing the number of legislative seats or moving to a German-style mixed system. Without a legislative majority, Tsai may face similar gridlock as Chen Shui-bian.
Timothy S. Rich is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Western Kentucky University. Hew tweets @timothysrich