Did the DPP really lose the Election because the System is Unfair?
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
January 17, 2008
The results of the legislative elections are considered a vote of non-confidence in Chen Shui-bian. But when Chen Shui-bian discussed the election during a diplomatic visit yesterday, he stubbornly maintained that his political path was correct. A centrist path was out of the question. This kind of mentality makes it clear that not only are Frank Hsieh's election prospects at risk, so is the political future of the DPP.
DPP officials are currently reviewing the election process. The overwhelming majority of them are blaming the electoral system for alleged unfairness. In fact, this is a deliberate attempt to mislead the public. Because the KMT won, it received an extraordinary number of seats. But no matter whether we are talking about At Large Party Ballots, or District Representative Ballots, the KMT received over half the votes. The District Representative vote was 53.5% vs. the DPP's 38.7%. The At Large Party vote was 51.23% vs. the DPP's 36.91%. The gap between the two votes was as high as 15%. In any democratic nation, this would be considered a clear indication of public sentiment.
Such an election result looks like radical change. But in a democratic nation it is the norm. Just last year alone, the ruling party in the United States, Japan, Poland, and Venezuela faced electoral defeat due to ideological dogmatism. The governments of Japan and Poland were forced to modify their political paths. Even Venezuelan eccentric Hugo Chavez had to make concessions to the public.
Yesterday Chen Shui-bian said "Everyone is to blame, but I am assuming responsibility." Having done so, he passed the buck for the election debacle to others. He told AIT Chairman Raymond Burghardt that under the old electoral system the DPP would have gotten 44 seats instead of 27 seats. Perhaps Chen Shui-bian is unwilling to admit that the loss of 17 seats was largely due to his own strategic miscalculations.
This is the first time the ROC has ever used the Single Member District Electoral System. Its most distinctive feature is that it is extremely sensitive to shifts in public sentiment. Particularly in political regions as small as Japan or Taiwan, due to local issues that may not be obvious. The election results often become votes of confidence in the leaders of the ruling party. During the 2008 ROC Legislative Yuan elections, all other topics were eclipsed. Chen Shui-bian single-handedly orchestrated the "Join the UN" and reunification vs. independence plebiscite campaigns. The election result amounted to a vote of no-confidence in Chen Shui-bian. An average of five percentage points in each electoral district was enough to cause many candidates to go from winners to losers.
To win under such an electoral system, one must win a plurality in each electoral district. In other words, one must appeal to swing voters. This of course runs completely counter to an election strategy in which one appeals only to one's core supporters. Yet even after the election Chen Shui-bian continued talking about how the DPP's core support was still intact, and stubbornly asserted that his election strategy was perfectly sound. But if his strategy was so sound, why couldn't he get a majority of the public to support it?
Constitutional amendments two years ago meant that the ROC's electoral system would change. Changes in the electoral system invariably lead to changes in the party system. In order to comply with the requirements for the Single Member District Electoral System, the Democratic Progressive Party modified its Deep Green party line. But why did the DPP, which has always been sensitive to the larger political environment, allow buffoons such as Hsieh Chi-wei, Tu Cheng-sheng, and even Chuang Kuo-jung, to engage in outrageous political stunts that alienated voters? They knew perfectly well that the Single Member District Electoral System posed a serious challenge to their election prospects. Yet they concocted a "Blues Excluded Clause" and incorporated it into the party primary process, deliberately shutting out potential candidates with more moderate images. How does one go about explaining the DPP's insanely self-destructive behaviour?
Do the Democratic Progressive Party's keepers of the flame really not see that the relationship between Chen Shui-bian and the DPP is now an adversarial, zero sum relationship? Chen Shui-bian knows that adopting a radical independence posture won't win any votes. But he must stick to it to the bitter end. Only then can he remain secure in his position as the Godfather of Taiwan independence. Only then can he shield himself from impending prosecution. If Chen Shui-bian is correct, if insistence on the "Primacy of Taiwan" is not merely a Deep Green position, but the majority view on Taiwan, then why have so-called "Chinese Fellow Travelers" who support the Blue Camp emerged triumphant in the legislative elections? Obviously Chen Shui-bian's arguments on behalf of any particular political path are merely political tools.
Chen Shui-bian has adopted his self-contradictory positions merely to ensure his personal survival. If the DPP continues down the Chen Shui-bian path however, it will not be ensuring its survival. It will be marching into the political wilderness. The ruling Democratic Progressive Party achieved power by uniting Deep Green and centrist voters. But Chen Shui-bian's corruption led to the loss of centrist support. Chen Shui-bian then reached out to fundamentalist elements, using them to hold off the center. This left the DPP, which might have been able to reconcile centrist with Deep Green voters, in an insoluble dilemma.
The DPP's predicament was obvious during the recent election. When it lost to the KMT even in Kaohsiung City and Kaohsiung County, when even solidly DPP districts began to slip from the DPP's grasp, its core support was lost. It is hardly surprising that many DPP supporters are concerned. This is no longer merely a question of whether their candidate can win the presidency. The Democratic Progressive Party must prepare itself mentally to being in the political opposition for years to come.
During the past eight years, under Chen Shui-bian's leadership, the Democratic Progressive Party has virtually nullified the rule of law. It has demonstrated contempt for the legislature, destroyed the credibility of the judiciary, and undermined the independence of independent agencies. The only democratic mechanism intact under DPP misrule is the electoral system. Chen Shui-bian has deliberately misinterpreted the meaning of the outcome of the legislative elections. The DPP had better wake up. When even the democratic procedures by which the people send messages to the ruling administration are being flouted, the public will certainly demand even stronger punishments.