Dec 01, 2001

Report on Taiwans Legislative Yuan and Magistrate Elections

Table of Contents

1. Background

2. The mission

3. Itinerary

4. Observations

5. Conclusions


DPP Democratic Progressive Party
GP Green Party
KMT Kuomintang Party
NP New Party
PFP People First Party
PRC Peoples Republic of China
TSU Taiwan Solidarity Union

1. Background

The December 1, 2001 Legislative Yuan (parliamentary) and magistrate (county and city) elections in Taiwan were of significant importance to the country’s political leadership, and to the people of Taiwan in general. Its outcome serves as a barometer of the domestic political climate and voter confidence, since the transfer of power to DPP presidential candidate Chen Shui-bian in March 2000.

President Chen Shui-bian and his government desperately needed a working majority in the Legislative Yuan as, for the past year, opposition legislators were almost united in their efforts to create political chaos through obstructionist politics. This caused serious setbacks to the DPP administration’s legislative and budgetary reform proposals and measures.
While the DPP controls the executive branch, the KMT, Taiwan’s oldest and wealthiest party, still held the majority of seats in the legislature. The KMT was either unwilling or unable to come to terms with its defeat in the presidential elections of last year. Last, but not the least, ordinary Taiwanese suffered a great deal, due to this situation by not benefiting from government’s financial assistance programmes and reforms at a time of increased economic decline, unemployment and social uncertainty.

Against this background, the DPP, KMT and other main political parties, the NP, PFP, the Green Party, and the TSU, engaged in an intense and loaded campaign for the election of all 225 Legislative Yuan seats, all of Taiwan’s county commissioner seats, and several city mayor seats. A number of counties experienced a fierce, though free and democratic contest between the so-called “pan-blue” alliance (the KMT and the PFP), and the “pan-green” alliance (the DPP and the TSU). Several independent candidates and representatives from small parties also participated countrywide.

This time, domestic issues profoundly dominated the respective party campaigns. In previous elections, cross-strait relations featured prominently. Interestingly, the PRC resorted to a policy of “silent observation”, realizing that large-scale military exercises in the Taiwan Strait are not only contra-productive (uniting the people of Taiwan in their aversion of the PRC’s leadership), but also unwise at a time of “friendship politics” and cooperation between the United States and the PRC in the war against international terrorism. The PRC seems to be pre-occupied with its WTO membership, preparations for the prestigious 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, internal political “power struggles”, and increased domestic instability.

Among the most discussed and debated issues were Taiwan’s serious economic recession, the government’s extent (lack) of political control, stricter measures against the “black gold politics” of election fraud and corruption, natural disasters and environmental degradation, unemployment, social welfare issues, and the necessity to boost high tech exports. Not surprisingly the DPP issued several appeals to its candidates to concentrate on these issues during their campaigns. A welcome variation was reference to Taiwan’s admission to the WTO, though this is expected to have a negative impact on production and employment in the agricultural sector.

The perception that both the DPP and the KMT went into the elections from a position of political weakness has proved only partly true. The DPP did well, while the KMT experienced yet another serious setback, loosing its majority in the Legislative Yuan for the first time in its history. The KMT saw its number of seats decreasing from 114 to a mere 68. The DPP, on the other hand, increased its total number of legislative seats from 66 to 87 – a gain of 21 seats. Media reports suggested that the KMT is in danger of political oblivion. Political analysts attribute its decline to a serious image problem, including a leadership split prior to the March 2000 presidential elections. Most voters were disappointed in the KMT leadership for its role in generating political instability, perceived to serve their self-interests. It also failed in effectively presenting a workable plan for socio-economic recovery. Voters have become more critical of issues linked to the KMT, such as its alleged links with the PRC government and its resort to illegal vote buying practises. KMT Chairman Lien Chan is likely to face more difficulty as party legislators may defect to, for example the PFP, which booked significant gains in the Legislative Yuan elections, increasing its number of seats from 17 to 46.

On the whole, the DPP may not have succeeded in gaining a two-third majority, but prospects have improved considerably for greater political stability in decision-making and legislative processes. A crucial point is whether President Chen and the DPP leadership will succeed in negotiating a deal for cross-party cooperation towards establishing a coalition government. Former President Lee Teng-hui’s party, the TSU, with its 13 seats gain, is a likely partner, while some KMT defectors may also be willing to cooperate on this matter.

2. The Mission

This report is the outcome of the UNPO’s participation in an election observation tour of Taiwan, at the invitation of the DPP Department of International Affairs. The DPP, as well as other parties, such as the TSU and the KMT, organized several election observation tours taking place simultaneously, or at short intervals. The aim was to promote a greater understanding of the political and socio-economic climate in Taiwan in general, and the DPP’s role in particular. The programme included visits to the party headquarters, local campaign offices, academic and other institutions, as well as meeting with legislative, county commissioner and city mayor candidates.

Participants included members of the local diplomatic corps, foreign media representatives, university academics (both from the Asia region and abroad), as well as representatives of international organizations, NGOs and political parties from abroad. The UNPO Secretariat was represented by Mr. David Broekman, Director Media and Information.
UNPO’s participation was also determined by Taiwan’s cordial relations with the organization, through the DPP, as well as its UNPO membership, being a founding member.

3. Itinerary

The tour commenced on 20 November 2001, the first day of the official campaign period (ten days prior to election day as determined by election law). The group was therefore in the fortunate position to observe the peak campaign period. Staff members of the DPP Department of International Affairs accompanied the group for the duration of the tour, and provided indispensable assistance in translating discussions into English.
Apart from visiting academic and other institutions in Taipei, as well as party campaign offices in the adjacent districts, a number of other cities were also visited. They included both KMT and DPP strongholds, such as Hsinchu city, Hualien (eastern region) and Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s second city and third largest container port in the world.

The UNPO representative also had dinner with Dr. Parris Chang in Taipei on 20 November 2001. Dr. Chang is Chairperson of the Legislative Yuan’s Foreign Relations Committee, and President of the Taiwan Institute for Political, Economic and Strategic Studies. He is also the President of the UNPO Steering Committee.

On Wednesday, 21 November, the group visited the Straits Exchange Foundation, the Central Elections Commission and the Election Study Centre of the Cheng-Chi University just outside Taipei. Dr. Wan-Ching Yen, Deputy Secretary-General of the Straits Foundation, briefed the group on cross-strait relations, particularly the so-called people-to-people relations, trade links, and the facilitating role of the Straits Exchange Foundation in the issuing official documentation for travelling, studying and other purposes. At the Central Elections Commission (CEC), the Chairman, Dr. George S.C. Huang, explained inter alia, the structures and role of the CEC in organizing and executing the elections, the electoral procedures as determined by law, provisions for campaign activities, constituency demarcation, and measures to curb election fraud.

Building upon this theoretical background, the Elections Study Centre provided statistics on previous democratic elections, including surveys of the different parties’ electoral achievements. These included opinion polls on issues such as Taiwan independence, “one country – two systems” approach, re-unification with the PRC, support of the status quo, and the extent of party and personality affiliations and identification. Academics also briefed the group on the importance of, and predictions on the December 1, 2001 elections.

At the DPP Headquarters in Taipei, the group met with staff members, and was briefed by the Director of the Department of International Affairs, Wilson Hsin Tien. Issues included the winning prospects for the DPP in various parts of the country, the reasons why this election was of particular importance, and the party’s four goals of a “booming economy, reforming parliament, eradicating black gold, and saving homeland”. Reference was also made to short- term prospects for cross-strait relations, and the DPP government’s absolute commitment to obtain victory through legitimate democratic means. The “homeland slogan” displays the DPP’s affection towards Taiwan and its people.

On Thursday, 22 November, the group travelled to Taoyuan and attended a press conference organised by the DPP County Commissioner candidate. The press conference was well attended and it provided a unique opportunity to take note of daunting magistrate election issues such as pollution, unemployment, and social welfare. The KMT candidate, Ju Li Luen, a former professor at Taiwan University, won the elections in Tao-Yuan. In the afternoon, the group met with the DPP candidate for the seat of Hsinchu City Commissioner and participated in his street campaign. This provided insight into candidates’ ability to conduct free election campaigns. The city was “draped” in colourful party banners, election posters, occasionally enlightened by customary fireworks along the streets as the candidates’ entourage passed supporters. The group enjoyed a brief view of the Hsinchu Science Industrial Park where high-tech industries conduct their research, development and production. As of the end of 2000, 289 high-tech companies had located to the Park, reaching a total turnover of US$ 29.8 billion.

On 23 November the group travelled to Hualien by plane where it observed campaign activities and had the opportunity to put questions to a campaign staff director and a representative of the aboriginal community. Hualien has one of the largest aboriginal communities in Taiwan. Reference was made to the problem of unemployment, resulting in a brain drain of young people to larger cities. The promotion of tourism is regarded as an important local election issue in this county. Other sectors elaborated in detail in the candidate’s election manifesto included transport; agriculture; industrial development; education; the environment, and clean government. The day’s programme also included a visit to the Mennonite Christian Hospital, the Tzu Chi Foundation, and the visitors’ centre of the world-renowned Taroko National Park.
These appointments allowed for the opportunity to learn more about non-election issues, particularly the standard of primary health care in Taiwan, as well as the role of a non-profit Buddhist-inspired organization in conducting emergency relief work, both domestically and abroad. Again, the indispensable contribution of volunteers in most sectors of society was emphasized, notably also after the occurrence of severe natural disasters in Taiwan. In the evening, the group observed a large fundraising and campaign rally of the DPP candidate of Hualien County Commissioner, attended by between 5000 and 7000 supporters. This was organised as an “entertainment” event, allowing for its legal broadcasting on national television (election law forbids parties to broadcast rallies for the duration of the 10-day official campaign period). Several cabinet ministers appeared on the platform to strengthen the campaigns of DPP candidates in Hualien, while renowned local artists encouraged the people’s participation. The Hualien County is traditionally a KMT stronghold.

On Saturday, 24 November, the group travelled (again by aircraft) to the city of Kaohsiung, located in the south-western corner of the island. This is a DPP stronghold. Again, the campaign office of the DPP candidate for Kaohsiung County Commissioner was visited and the group was impressed by the high degree of participation by ordinary people in the campaign, many of them voluntary staff. It was clear that the DPP faced stiff competition from other parties and that personal charisma, leadership, and effective communications with people on the street were determining factors in the election outcome. Election issues centred around problem areas such as Kaohsiung’s notorious water quality. Well-known DPP candidate and favourite, Yang Chiou Shing, defeated the KMT candidate in this election.

In the afternoon the group paid a visit to the joint campaign office of legislative candidates of Kaohsiung city, followed by attending a press briefing held by DPP Chairman, Dr. Frank Hsieh. Dr. Hsieh was elected mayor of Kaohsiung in 1998, and is widely respected for his political wisdom and commitment towards the cause of democracy in Taiwan. On the issue of “black gold politics” and election fraud (incidents of vote-buying), Dr. Hsieh replied that this has decreased significantly since the Ministry of Justice has begun to implement effective measures to counter the occurrence thereof. The day was concluded with the observation of a large DPP campaign rally attended by more than 10 000 supporters. Again, several cabinet ministers made appearances, including the President and the Vice-President. The UNPO representative met briefly with the Vice Chairman of the Council for Hakka Affairs, Executive Yuan, Dr. Leo Y.P. Liu, and the Secretary General of the Executive Yuan, Dr. I- Jen Chiou.

On Sunday, 25 November, the group returned to Taipei where the tour ended with the departure of participants.

4. Observations

In general, events during the official campaign period, characterized by large and lively rallies, have proved that politics are not only for politicians. Ordinary Taiwanese are increasingly becoming aware of their democratic rights and the need to actively participate to keep these rights alive and secure a better future, particularly when welfare prospects are diminishing by the day. Enthusiasm was widespread, though the voter participation rate was down from a high 80% in last year’s presidential elections to around 66%. Candidates were facing fierce competition for (re)-election, resulting in numerous incidents of character assassination and mud slinging, as well as isolated cases of election violence.

The situation is influenced by Taiwan’s complex elections system, determined by a district (county) system whereby votes cast on one candidate cannot be transferred to another candidate of the same party. In essence, even candidates from the same party are forced to compete against each other for votes, putting the more charismatic, though perhaps less qualified candidate in a stronger position. Membership of even the strongest party provides no guarantee to a candidate that he or she will be elected after all. This also explains why independent candidates have always performed relatively well as long as they are likeable among voters. Party leadership have allocated a lot of time and energy to find ways to overcome this by means of a vote distribution strategy, encouraging voters to spread their votes more evenly among candidates.
In general, no unreasonable restrictions on the freedom of expression were observed. The campaign period received extensive coverage by the electronic and the printed media. The only significant restriction appeared in the form of lack of adequate funding and resources among the smaller parties. The main parties spent large amounts on their respective marketing strategies, including public relations stunts, the dispatching of information, advertising and dinner events. One daily newspaper referred to it as a competing spectacle of tooters, flags and fireworks. With the KMT loosing its grip on public life in large parts of Taiwan, most, if not all parties enjoyed a higher degree of freedom of expression. Interestingly the DPP complained about one-sided and unfair media attacks on President Chen, contributing to the occurrence of mud slinging. The President himself, however, remarked that such practises are indicative of a healthy and developing democracy.

The group was impressed by the relative young age of many candidates, of who most are well qualified with either a PhD, or extensive experience in the public service and/or private sector. Quite a significant percentage conducted their studies at renowned universities in the United States. As mentioned before, charisma and personality is an important determining aspect in elections in Taiwan. A good example is the success of PFP leader James Soong (former KMT secretary-general), largely determined by his charisma. At several occasions, reference was made to the high costs of running an effective election campaign, thus excluding many other potential candidates from running. Candidates have shown a lot of creativity in the design of their campaign slogans, banners, and other material, trying to reach the people on the street. Fear of a decrease in voter interest and participation was expressed, while potential voters have expressed criticism of politicians who, after being (re)-elected, eventually loose reality with their constituencies and do not fulfil the promises they have made.

Tables with election data are included to further explain the contents of this report. Data was obtained from the Election Study Centre, National Chengchi University, Taipei.

5. Conclusions

It is evident that Taiwan has made great strides in strengthening and promoting democratic values since the UNPO’s first election monitoring mission took place from 30 November – 4 December 1994. Many, if not all of the recommendations made then, have been effectively addressed, particularly those dealing with election laws, electoral procedures and election fraud. The printed and electronic media reported only a few alleged cases of outright vote buying and election bribery, and these cases are currently under investigation. No doubt, this can be attributed to the government’s strong commitment and determination to fight “ black gold politics” by allocating more law resources for this purpose.

While the UNPO was not able to monitor Election Day, it is satisfied that the CEC has put in place sound and adequate measures to monitor ballot counting at counting stations countrywide. For example, each ballot counting station is assigned one chief inspector and 2-3 inspectors to monitor the counting. All political parties and candidates have equal opportunities to recommend inspectors, while security guards are also dispatched from local police.

The CEC is to be commended for successfully organizing Taiwan’s most transparent and cleanest elections to date. This is certainly no easy task as for the Legislative Yuan elections more than 10 million eligible voters cast their votes at about 13 590 polling stations countrywide. For the magistrate elections, the total number of voters was more than 8.5 million. Candidates competed for all 225 legislative seats, as well as 23 county magistrates and city mayor seats. The police also did a splendid job in maintaining social order, particularly during times of heated campaigning and fervent participation.

On the issue of the establishment of a so-called national stabilization alliance after the elections, it should be noted that Taiwanese politics are totally unfamiliar with coalition government politics. It will certainly enter a difficult time of trail and error governance. After all, Taiwan was a one-party “state” until 1987, when martial law was abolished. The number of free and democratic elections held since then can still be counted on two hands. The DPP’s victory comes with great expectations and responsibility, necessitating careful planning and execution of policies. President Chen’s pragmatic leadership will be crucial in this regard. By taking democratic politics seriously, Taiwan needs to accept that reasoned competition and cooperation within and between parties is on the cards. The UNPO is confident that Taiwan will overcome its current malaise, and that cross-party cooperation would be in the interest of Taiwanese fundamental rights.

Finally, the NP’s political catastrophe, securing only one legislative seat, has shown that voters do not appreciate its policy of “one country, two systems”, interpreting it as submission to the PRC. In fact, according to a recent survey conducted by the Executive Yuan’s Mainland Affairs Council, 70.4% of Taiwanese disapproved of China’s “one country, two systems” proposal for cross-strait development. Taiwan’s democratic future is to be determined by Taiwanese themselves.

Table 1: Previous legislative election results of KMT and DPP

Legislative election year KMT: % of total votes DPP: % of total votes
1989 60.0 68.2
1992 60.1 33.1
1995 46.1 33.2
1998 46.43 29.56
2000 Presidential election 23.1 39.3

The DPP’s support level remained more or less stable until the March 2000 presidential elections when it increased significantly. An important factor was President Chen’s pragmatic leadership and his credibility as an effective, honest and conciliatory mayor of Taipei city (1994-98). On the other hand, the KMT was plagued by a leadership split between President Lee and the popular KMT secretary general James Soong. President Lee expelled him from the party in the autumn of 1999. Running as independent candidate, Dr. Soong was narrowly defeated by Chen. Subsequently, President Lee was blamed for the KMT candidate’s defeat and forced to resign as party chairman.

Table 2: Results of the 2001 Legislative Yuan Elections

Party DPP TSU KMT PFP NP Others Independent Total
District 69 8 53 35 1 1 9 176
Members- at-large 18 5 15 11 0 0 0 49
Total 87 13 68 46 1 1 9 225

The results of the city mayor and county commissioner elections were as follows (seats gained marked in parentheses):

DPP (9), KMT (9), PFP (2), NP (1), Independent (2)