The DPP should critique its Policies, not the System
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
January 23, 2008
After the KMT won nearly three-fourths of all the seats during the Legislative Yuan elections, political blame began to fall on the electoral system. Allegations that a single party in control of the Presidency, the Executive Yuan, and the Legislative Yuan, might lead to a dangerous concentration of power began to surface. Worrying about the concentration of power is a good thing. But experience has shown that the ROC lacks a mature understanding of the rule of law. How can one conclude from the outcome of a single election that the system ought to be changed? Such an attitude fails to understand that an electoral system is not an instrument to ensure a certain election outcome. It is a mechanism that provides checks on power. The results of the ROC Legislative Yuan elections demonstrate that the system is functioning quite well.
Two years ago, the ruling and opposition parties, under intense pressure from Deep Green elders Lin I-hsiung and Nobel Laureate Lee Yuan-tseh, adopted the single member district, two ballot electoral system for the ROC Legislative Elections. One of greatest benefits from a single member district electoral system is that it helps moderates gain entry to the legislature. The fact is, the Democratic Progressive Party adopted precisely the wrong strategy in the Legislative Yuan elections. During its party primaries it adopted a "Blues Excluded" provision, keeping moderates and centrists within the party out of the running. During the election campaign its underlying tone was not "reconciliation and coexistence," but the shrill "us vs. them" rhetoric of Taiwan independence fundamentalism. That this led to the total alienation of moderate voters is not at all surprising. The result was entirely consistent with the new, smaller voting districts. People were surprised with the results merely because they lacked experience with the "winner takes all" system. Once they familiarize themselves with its operating principles, they will find that the system encourages moderate social policies. They will find that it leads to increasing social consensus. This will have a positive effect on the behavior of political candidates.
The same principle applies in the presidential election. If the voters don't want a single party to control both the presidency and the legislature, that is their choice. It is not a crime to win a landslide majority. Voters may prefer a moderate political party in control of the legislature. Any candidate who understands the voters' preferences, and who adopts a moderate, centrist political path, has a chance of winning. Candidates who adopt extreme policies will alienate or anger a majority of voters. If voters want a political party with moderate policies to win both a majority in the legislature and also the presidency, that is their prerogative. It is hardly a result that needs to be prohibited by a constitutional republic.
Put plainly, the Constitution does not prohibit any one party receiving a majority in the legislature. Nor does it prohibit the same party from winning both the presidency and a majority in the legislature. This is true not only of the Republic of China. This is true all over the world. No constitution in the world prohibits the same political party from controlling both the legislative and executive branches.
If we are going to demand that the electoral system be changed merely because the results of the legislative elections surprised some of us, are we going prohibit voters from casting "too many" votes for any particular political party? Are any "extra votes" to be nullified? Are we going to prohibit political parties from offering election platforms that a majority of voters find appealing? Are we going to find ways to ensure that political parties are positioned at opposite ends of the political spectrum, staring each other down?
To say that the system must be changed merely because the presidency and legislature are controlled by the same political party, is the same as saying that the constitution must not allow a single political party to control both the legislature and the executive. That is the same as saying that if a party wins a landslide victory in the legislature, then it must not be permitted to field a candidate for the presidency. We need to understand that for a single political party to receive an overwhelming majority in both legislative and presidential elections is perfectly normal. A political party that champions extreme positions cannot survive. Other political parties will fill the vacuum by advocating policies more acceptable to the voters.
A more fundamental reason is that under a constitutional republic checks and balances do not depend upon political parties, but upon the separation of powers among the different branches of government. Political parties must not behave like criminal gangs. A political party that achieves power must not refuse to check and balance another branch of government merely because it is controlled by its own party. For example, the Executive Yuan must not refuse to check and balance the president merely because he or she belongs to the same party. The Legislative Yuan must not refuse to check and balance the Executive Yuan merely because it is controlled by the same party. Conversely, the different branches of government must transcend partisan loyalties. They must refrain from engaging in purely partisan political battles. This will enable the nomination of political appointees to cease being a partisan power struggle. If a ruling party that controls both the legislature and executive ignores constitutional checks and balances, it cannot escape public condemnation. It cannot escape opposition party condemnation. It cannot escape judicial review for unconstitutional conduct. In the next election will be rejected by the electorate. It will be forced to surrender its legislative majority and even its executive authority.
The people have relegated a extremist political party to the scrap heap of history. This is hardly a defect in the constitution. It is not the public that should be engaging in soul-searching. It is not the winning political party that should be apologizing. It is the losing political party that should be deciding what kind of attitude it should adopt and what kind of policies it should advocate. The voters will be the arbiters during the next election. This is the norm under a constitutional republic. This is hardly a reason to change the system.