Saturday, February 03, 2007

Redrawing the legislature

An critically important event took place this week, with the major parties agreeing on the redistricting plan that is necessary to carry out the legislative elections slated for later this year. The pro-Green Taipei Times reported:

Electoral boundaries within four disputed cities and counties (Taipei and Taichung cities and Miaoli and Changhua counties) will be structured according to the original draft, while two other draws favored amendments presented by the Taiwan Solidarity Union (Taipei County) and the Democratic Progressive Party (Taoyuan County).

Boundaries within two other counties -- Kaohsiung County and Pingtung County -- will be altered based on cross-party interests.

"We deliberated on the redistribution but couldn't reach a compromise. Drawing lots was an acceptable way to resolve the dispute," Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) said after a four-hour meeting with Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) yesterday.

After their meeting, the legislature referred the compromise proposal to the CEC, which was required by law to promulgate the change by yesterday.

The next legislative elections, to be held in December, will mark a significant change in the nation's political landscape, with the number of seats reduced to 113 from 225.

The controversial "single-vote, multiple-member district" will be replaced by the "two-vote, single-member district" system, in which 73 electorates will be represented by one candidate each, with another 34 seats allotted to parties based on the proportion of votes received.

The other six seats are reserved for Aboriginal legislators, who formerly had eight reserved seats.

To recap, in 2005 the Constitution was altered, with the support of both major parties, to reduce the number of seats in the legislature. This is widely expected to gut the representation of the smaller parties in the legislature. With the number of seats falling to less than half, the pressure on the major parties to preserve seats for powerful legislators was immense. Fortunately the negotiations were carried out by KMT Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng and the DPP Premier, Su Tseng-chang, both of whom have a reputation for pragmatism. Wang is the powerful rival to the KMT's anointed presidential favorite, current party Chairman Ma Ying-jeou.

The redistricting issue had been a major latent constitutional crisis. During the fall of 2006 the PFP and certain elements in the KMT were talking about recalling the Premier and bringing down the government. Since the President can dissolve the legislature if the Premier is brought down, Taiwan would have had to hold new legislative elections -- but the districts had not been approved by the legislature. Hence, a severe constitutional crisis would have resulted. This has apparently been averted.

The Taipei Times complained about one of my favorite topics, the international media, whose Sauron-style eye fixes on Taiwan only when something related to China occurs....

The changes to the legislature and electoral districts will have a profound effect on the political system. No one, not even the major political parties, is able to predict what kind of legislature the December elections will bring to power.

First, half of all sitting legislators will lose their jobs, as the legislative seats will be slashed from 225 to 113. Next, many popular and prominent figures will be left on the street, because politicians must now compete with each other for first place, rather than being guaranteed a seat by earning a high number of votes. In addition, small political parties face a fight for their survival.

Why will any of this matter outside of Taiwan? Given the changes, it is possible that a party could win a legislative super-majority, enabling it to do all kinds of things, such as write a new constitution.

Or declare independence. Even the international media would notice that.

It's too early to say how the redistricting will favor the individual parties, except that it doesn't favor the little ones. The pro-KMT China Post reported the other day:

Meanwhile, faced with more competitive elections with greatly reduced seats, DPP Legislator Chen Chin-jun said the DPP has to work with the TSU, saying that if the TSU fields its own candidate in each constituency, it will impact the "pan-green camp."

KMT Legislator John Chiang estimated that the new scheme will be favorable to the major parties and that the KMT, which currently controls 90 seats in the 219-seat legislature, will garner two-thirds of the seats.

PFP Legislator Cheng Chin-Ling said her party and the KMT will have to meet next week at the latest to talk about fielding candidates, as the two parties will be soliciting support from the same voters.

In related development, Taoyuan County Magistrate Chu Li-lun said he regretted the result of the draw.

Chu said the initial redistricting scheme sent by the county to the CEC was based on Chungli and Taoyuan cities having the largest township-level cities in one constituency each, while the final version has cut more than 10 boroughs each from the two cities and has given them to other constituencies.

But Hsu Chung-wen, director of the DPP's Taoyuan branch, was elated, saying that the new scheme will finally break the KMT's traditional hold on the two cities and that the DPP will be able to win half of the six seats in Taoyuan County.

Premier Su warned that it is too soon to tell, but it is worth noting that prior to the spate of scandals last year, the DPP was the single largest party in the legislature, although the Blues retained an overall advantage. The Post noted in another article:

Ten out of the 15 cities and counties -- Yilan, Hsinchu, Hualien, Taitung, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu counties as well as Hsinchu, Keelung, Chiayi cities will have only one seat, while Tainan city and Kaohsiung, Yunlin, Chiayi, Nantou counties each will have two constituencies with one seat in each of them.
Outside of the generally pro-KMT north, the redistricting plan appears to diminish KMT clout in certain areas. Yilan has long been a DPP stronghold, but Taitung, Hualien, Kinmen, and Matsu all tend to vote Blue. Compared to those, the southern areas of Kaohsiung, Yunlin, Chiayi, and Nantou did well, with two seats each. But by comparison with the north, the south appears to fare poorly -- there are a total of 12 legislators from Taipei county and 8 from Taipei. The aborigines tend to support the KMT as well, for historical reasons.

The 34 at-large seats will be apportioned to the parties based on their performance in the election -- if they win 75% of the seats, they will win 75% of the at-large seats. These seats will likely go to party insiders -- current legislative Speaker and KMT stalwart Wang Jin-pyng holds an at-large seat, appointed by party elites. Chairman Ma Ying-jeou has recently attempted to undercut the influence of KMT elites, who do not like him, by making the at-large seats democratically elected. The whole idea strikes me as wrongheaded -- the additional 34 seats should be used for more geographic representation, rather than awarded to the parties. They simply reinforce the impression that Taiwan's politics are all about politicians.


Anonymous said...

Very informative post.

As a matter of fact, I read a few others and found them quite interesting. The kind of stuff I enjoy reading!

If you don't mind, I'll take the liberty of putting a link to your site on my own blog.


Anonymous said...

I actually wonder whether there is a golden opportunity for the DPP to do well in these legislative elections. Maybe if Ma is indicted and they can push the issue of KMT funds a bit, they could make the voters think that actually the DPP aren't such a bad bet.

But they should ensure they don't seem too hostile in dealing with China. Links with it won't act as a magic wand to boost the economy, but they shouldn't appear too reactionary - it just plays into the KMT's hands.