Written by Timothy Rich.
With Taiwan’s national elections approaching, attention remains primarily on the likelihood that it will elect its first female president in Tsai Ing-wen. Taiwanese law prohibits the releasing of polls results in the ten days prior to a presidential election, but polls prior to this moratorium consistently show Tsai with a double-digit lead over Eric Chu and James Soong. Similarly, while many (including myself) originally thought it unlikely that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) would win a majority in the legislature, later analyses (see here and here) find a DPP majority within reach. Rather than rehash what may differ under the first united DPP government in Taiwan’s history, I would like to consider three other questions about the legislative election.
First, with the expected electoral defeat of the Kuomintang (KMT), will this lead to the strengthening of other pan-blue alternatives? The People First Party (PFP) clearly hopes to be a viable alternative for alienated KMT voters, with the popularity of James Soong potentially creating a coattail effect for legislative candidates. However, with this likely being James Soong’s last election, the long-term future of the party remains in question. Even in an election environment where fewer identify with the KMT, the PFP is only expected to increase its seat share by a few seats. However, if Soong manages to outperform Eric Chu in the presidential election and this exacerbates the internal conflicts within the KMT, it could reinvigorate the PFP at least temporarily.
Secondly, will this election be the end of the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) in the legislature? With the party failing to clear the five percent electoral threshold in 2008, few expected their strong performance in 2012 (8.96% of the vote, three seats). However, the rise of additional third force parties, in particular the New Power Party, threatens to lock the TSU out of the legislature. A party that lacks seats in the legislature may find difficulty in recruiting candidates to lower level offices if those with ambition see little hope of moving up the political ladder. Thus, the TSU’s fate may mirror that of the blue New Party (NP) which failed to garner any seats in 2012 and will likely repeat this performance this year.
Finally, will Taiwan see an increase in the number of female legislators? The 2012 election resulted in a third of legislative seats held by women, surpassing Taiwan’s East Asian neighbors and comparable to many Western European democracies. Nomination quotas have aided in increasing female representation in Taiwan and elsewhere, cross-national research shows that incumbency negatively impacts the electoral fortunes of female legislative candidates. However, with anti-KMT sentiment undermining incumbency advantage in many districts, and parties across the political spectrum nominating female district candidates, 2016 may continue Taiwan’s trend towards greater gender parity.
Timothy S. Rich is an Assistant Professor at the Political Science Department at Western Kentucky University