Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Combining Presidential and Legislative Elections

Magnificent spectacle!--every tongue
Suddenly civil that yesterday rung
(Like a clapper beating a brazen bell)
Each fair reputation's eternal knell;
Hands no longer delivering blows,
And noses, for counting, arrayed in rows.

The Central Election Commission's (CEC) decision to combine the Presidential and Legislative Election and hold them jointly on January 14, 2012, has provoked quite a bit of commentary in the pan-Green media claiming that the move is bad for the DPP. I'm just going to list a few things in no particular order, good and bad for the DPP, that have crossed my desk:

  • Holding the election on Jan 14 disenfranchises thousands of young voters who would have been able to vote had the Presidential election been held in March as is usual (here, for example). These voters tend to favor the DPP. 
  • That weekend is the weekend for college entrance exams, now moved to the Monday. Troublesome for many parents who want to accompany their children to the exams. 
  • That weekend is the weekend before Chinese New Year. For many Taipei residents who have their households down south, they will have to go south twice in two weeks, on crowded roads and transportation. This will deter many from returning south to vote.
  • Since it is the weekend before Chinese New Year, many businessmen in China will return home a week early to vote. That makes convenient for them. Although many claim this bloc is somewhat pro-KMT I am not convinced of that.
  • Combining elections allows the DPP to focus its money more economically, offsetting the KMT's massive financial advantages.
  • Holding elections in Jan means that a large number of people who might have died before the March elections will be able to vote. In 2010 ~140,000 people died (here). Arguably this means an extra 35,000 people will be around to vote, more or less. This helps wash the 50,000 kids it is alleged will not be able to vote.
  • Combining elections makes it more difficult for small parties to get seats (here).
  • Combining elections means turnout will be higher. My perception is that higher turnout favors the DPP. In fact I have heard that the perception among both the DPP and KMT analysts is that the South is going to be a pro-DPP bloodbath. The KMT appears to be gambling that higher turnout will favor it.
  • In a combined election vote buying to get people out to vote will for the first time affect the Presidential election, which is generally considered free of it. And we all know which party does the most vote buying.
  • Because the Constitution specifies the swearing in of the president on May 20, the election creates a four month interregnum for the outgoing administration. This suggests to me that one reason the KMT is pursuing the claim that DPP politicians absconded with 36,000 documents is, well, you know, when the KMT accuses the DPP of something, it means they may well be doing it themselves....
  • The fact that the government rushed through the combined elections before the laws had been properly amended implies a political motive for combining them (here).
The most important thing to take away from all this? The key factor isn't combined elections. It is how the two parties run their campaigns. It is how the party machines function. It is who becomes the candidates. If the DPP has a strong candidate (hint: TSAI TSAI TSAI) and runs a good campaign then it doesn't matter when the elections are held, the DPP can take the Presidency and bring in many of its own people into the legislature on her coattails. And if the DPP loses, it won't be because the elections are combined.

Another issue I'd like to bring up. A couple of months ago the brilliant election observer Nathan at Frozen Garlic argued that if the legislative election follows the recent shifts in voting in the by-elections, city council and mayoral elections, the DPP could take as many as 34 seats and the KMT fall to 39 in the LY elections. I didn't buy that argument, probably due in part to my natural pessimism, but also because the blocs of voters for the LY, mayoral, and Presidential elections are not the same and behave differently. But the CEC has nullified my objection by effectively uniting all the disparate blocs of voters. Even if you argue that it hurts the DPP in the Presidential election, it might help it with the legislature. Looking forward to Nathan's next analysis!
Don't miss the comments below! And check out my blog and its sidebars for events, links to previous posts and picture posts, and scores of links to other Taiwan blogs and forums! Delenda est, baby.


David on Formosa said...

The combined elections probably give a slight, although not great advantage to the KMT. The real issue is that the decision harms the integrity of Taiwan's democratic system. It shows a complete disregard for the constitution and the law as the KMT desperately tries to gain any possible advantage in the elections.

We have already seen the KMT extend term limits with the upgrading/merging of the special municipalities. This is yet another example of the KMT rewriting the rules mid-game for its own advantage with total disregard for the long term consequences.

Anonymous said...

No matter what the KMT do will not make them win this time.

They have milked the shallow pockets of the middle class painfully dry and these group forms the majority of the swing voters.

While their income remains in a plateau the gas and food prices and their monthly health insurance premium have gone painfully Everest!


M said...

Most analysts think that high turnout helps the KMT. This is because DPP supporters are more committed and tend to vote anyway.

Merged elections will definitely not help the KMT in the south, which is why so many southern KMT legislators were against them.
They should also further weaken local factions as factional votes will be swamped by party votes due to the higher turnout.

They will probably also further increase the power of the presidency, since many legislators will be basing their re-election chances on the popularity of the president.
Will be interesting to see how much split-ticket voting goes on.

Robert R. said...

I'd be less concerned about Ma & pals stealing documents in those 4 months than about other silliness/malfeasance that they would do in those 4 months, especially if they maintain control of the Legislative Yuan.
I recall a recent Taipei Times editorial saying the possible security implications of these combined elections, mostly China related, but they're likely to rush through some other shenanigans to benefit their partners and/or consolidate power. Your imagination is probably better than mine on this.

Regarding the not-yet-dead old people washing out the not-yet-eligible young people, what are the partisan leanings of said old people. You've already made a point that the young'uns are DPP-leaning...

Michael Turton said...

Will be interesting to see how much split-ticket voting goes on.

Yes, this will really be a good chance to see how the voters really vote.

Michael Turton said...

Your imagination is probably better than mine on this.

Oh yes, I expect lots of stuff. It will sure be ugly.

Anonymous said...

Agree with Robert R, the skeptic in me saw that 4 month period and thought. They have some plans they don't want to do before an election, now with the possibility of a loss for Ma looking likely. They create a 4 month window so that even if they lose, they can still do whatever it is they wanted.

I also agree with you Michael, if they do that, it will be very ugly.


Anonymous said...

It doesn't matter that southerners won't be able to return south to vote because south of Chuo-shui Shi, the KMT is going extinct.

"Although many claim this bloc is somewhat pro-KMT I am not convinced of that."

Hmm, I'm skeptical of your unconvinced state, but curious. What's your evidence?

The DPP's strength in national elections will strengthen their legislative showing. They can also concentrate their spending with one election. However, KMT vote buying is also much easier when the elections are combined because you can purchase many votes in a bundle for a "discount". The voter only has to make one trip in total. The 3-in-1 elections several years ago was an example of this and that was the beginning of the DPP's long losing streak.

Free Taiwan said...

Addressing a few points and comments.

1) Disenfranchising - doesn't really hold up. Most citizens seem to be in favor of combined elections in principle (ie without taking into account how it's being done now). If they weren't combined for 2012, they would have been for 2016. Either way, some young voters will miss out if the presidential election is brought forward.

2)Really, by that age, students should be able to take exams without mommy holding their hands.

3)Absentee voting. It's ridiculous that it hasn't been put in place already.

4)They'd probably have returned anyway because from their perspective, good relations with China are important.

7)TW is essentially a 2 party system so small parties only really represent protests votes anyway. If there's a fault, it's with the 2 party system not the consolidation of elections or timing.

8) Higher turnout will be felt more in the legislative election than the presidential.

10)The 4 month wait period can easily be amended, if not for 2012 then for future elections.

11)Most polls suggest the majority of voters are in favor. If it's political then it's only as a side effect. The linked editorial seems to overlook a few more important things in 2008 such as the global economic crisis, relations with China etc that by necessity took precedence.

David on Formosa wrote

We have already seen the KMT extend term limits with the upgrading/merging of the special municipalities. This is yet another example of the KMT rewriting the rules mid-game for its own advantage with total disregard for the long term consequences.

Not at all. The changed special municipalities have only seen a one-off change to term limits. They apply equally to DPP held cities/counties as they do to KMT ones.

Okami said...

Election and voting shenanigans by the KMT and saying they have very little or no respect for the law?!?! I'm shocked, just shocked!

What would I do if I were a KMT poombah?
1. Naturalized mainland Chinese citizens
2. Vote buying, vote buying and more vote buying, be sure to hamstring the people in charge of investigating vote buying and let them know that diligence will be punished.
3. Taking a bat/machete to faction/local politics. It's a twofer, where before you had to kiss their ass in 2 elections, you now have them fighting for you at half the price and all the commitment as before just once. Factional heads aren't stupid and a price was paid, it will be dog whistle politics.(Ruff!)
4. This actually benefits the KMT more financially as they normally have to use their financial edge along with their media assets to help push them over the top. Now they need only exert themselves once rather than twice. I'd love to see financial statements on this coming election versus prior elections.
5. I believe Tsai will be a horrible candidate and an even worse president. I'm seeing Chen Shuibian 2.0. This is not an endorsement of any other candidate just my impression from what she has said and the general feel about her.

The only one I'm shaky on is 1, the others I plan to see come true over the next year.

Michael Turton said...

Hmm, I'm skeptical of your unconvinced state, but curious. What's your evidence?

There's no reliable evidence of their political commitments either way, and i think if they had become pro_KMT i'd be hearing it from my students whose dads are in China

Anonymous said...


I think Tsai is the DPP opposite of Chen. SHe is not a populist. She does not appeal to ethnic politics. She does not represent the Formosa movement, nor does she draw her DPP credentials from the Formosa movement and 1970's activism. She is nuanced rather than simply a DPP ideologue.

I see more CSB with Su, the gruff Taiyu speaker who appeals to southern farmers and old activists with the same ethnic politics Chen used.

Michael Turton said...

Ethnic politics are a KMT invention.

Nor was Chen simply a DPP ideologue.

M said...

Vote buying only works when a candidate needs a relatively small amount of votes to win. That is why the lower the level of election, the more vote buying takes place. Apparently in Jinmen, votes can go for up to NT10,000 a head because there are so few "swing voters" who decide the result of each election (most voters just vote according to family/clan).

Because turnout will be higher for the legislative elections, the impact of vote buying may well be reduced. Many voters who would not normally vote in the legislative election will be party /image voters who are not susceptible to vote buying (if they were they would have taken the bribe and voted in the past). In addition, candidates who wish to engage in vote buying will find they have to buy more voters to gain a majority, spreading their resources more thinly and making vote buying less effective.

Michael Turton said...

M -- I think in the main you are right -- the relative impact vote buying will be reduced but nevertheless for the first time it will contaminate the Presidential election for the first time. It hasn't before.


TicoExpat said...

The exam date is really a deal breaker. Though you may take the Western "they are old enough to do it without Mommy", the truth is that Mommy needs to be there, giving water and wet towels and nutricious soups to her baby -especially if it is a boy. Everything -future, marriage, support in old age for parents-depends on those tests. And they are long. No way parents can travel without their kids on this one.

Again, absentee voting benefits a KMT base.

Michael Turton said...

Yeah, that is why they moved the exams.

M said...

M -- I think in the main you are right -- the relative impact vote buying will be reduced but nevertheless for the first time it will contaminate the Presidential election for the first time. It hasn't before.

Ma may be banking on something like that - voters mobilized by local patronage networks for the legislative election may also vote for Ma in the presidential election. So the amount of split ticket voting will be crucial. Will be interesting to see how closely legislative candidates on both sides tie their campaigns to their respective party's presidential candidates.

Anonymous said...

Is there any reason to view this as more problematic than the old system? At best legislative and presidential elections should occur mid-term, yes, but I thought it was clear that the DPP fared also pretty weak during the last legislative elections because voter turnout was quite low...

John Scott said...

As modern as Taiwan's infrastructure has become in the last decade or so, why isn't there a system in place that would allow people to cast their vote from any location in the country??

Might have something to do with the fact that making it equally convenient for everyone to vote (like workers and students in the north who are registered in the south) would eliminate many of the unfair advantages built into the present system that favor the KMT.

Or why not allow people to simply fill out a new voter registration card in the city where they presently live, work, or study, so they can vote in the next election? It is a simple process in my country-- you fill out the card at the post office or grocery store, and then you get a new voters' registration card in the mail a week later. You can do that every time you move to a different city or county, as often as you like, but of course your name is only on one county's list at a time. Your name and number is checked before you vote.

Also, we have polls that are open for 'early voting' several days the week prior to election day. And if I plan to be away on election day, I can cast my vote by mail 2 weeks in advance.

Why would that be so impossible to implement in Taiwan?? We already see that the party in power (especially if it is the KMT) is able to make various changes to the election processes.

Some Taiwanese have told me that the main reason Taiwan can never do things that way is because it would just allow too many more opportunities for voting fraud. But again, I think that is a major cop-out for a supposedly modern nation like Taiwan.

Anonymous said...

Err, John Scott, Taiwanese are too good at scamming these kinds of systems, any kind of absentee voting would be very suspect. For example, Taiwanese defeated GRE computerized testing by sending people in and memorizing ALL the questions. GRE computerized testing is now banned in Taiwan, but continues to be used in the US. Forcing persons to show up to vote has greatly reduced fraud in elections I'm afraid, though vote buying obviously is a problem.