Can the DPP Win a Majority in the Legislature?A DPP majority would be akin to entering uncharted waters, but also an opportunity to redefine Taiwanese electoral politics beyond debates on identity and Taiwan’s status
The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) currently maintains a comfortable majority in the 113-seat Legislative Yuan with 65 seats and a further cushion considering the other pan-blue seats. However, if the 2014 local elections were any indication, the 2016 legislative election could very well produce a majority for the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) or a DPP-led majority coalition. Also assuming that a DPP legislative majority only occurs if Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) also wins the presidency, this would mark the first time that the DPP would preside over a unified government, in stark contrast to the Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) presidency where a pan-blue legislative majority blocked much of Chen’s domestic policies.
Admittedly the chances for a majority appear limited for several reasons. The DPP has averaged only a third of the legislative seats since 1992, peaking in 2004 with 89 out of 225 seats (39.6%), before the abysmal showing in 2008 with only 27 out of 113 seats (23.9%). Electoral reforms starting with the 2008 election replaced the single nontransferable vote (SNTV) system that elected legislators primarily within multimember districts with that of a two-vote mixed member system.
The new system, like that in Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, and Germany, elects candidates in single member districts — thus one winner only — as well as by proportional representation on a national party list (six aboriginal seats are still filled via SNTV). As mentioned before, the winner-take-all of the more numerous district seats and that every county gets at least one seats, including Kinmen and Lienchang, results in a malapportionment that generally favors the KMT. The halving of the number of seats, also part of the same electoral reform, in the Legislative Yuan simply exacerbated this problem.
Thus, for the DPP to capture a majority, they likely need to increase their share of the party list votes, but more importantly capture districts outside of the south. As Nathan Batto points out, the DPP would need to turn at least 12 seats for a majority. Of course many factors influence district elections, but if the presidential race indirectly influences district votes, the perceived extremism of Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱), the KMT candidate, could spell trouble in several districts, especially in New Taipei City and Taoyuan.
The DPP also must contend with challenges from smaller progressive parties that have emerged since the Sunflower Movement, namely the New Power Party. Although the level of support for these new parties is entirely unclear, failing to at least consider coordination with likeminded parties on district candidates potentially could hand over competitive districts to the KMT. Of course, with the declining number of the public identifying with the KMT, candidate proliferation among the pan-blues is also a possibility.
Assuming a continuation of electoral trends since the 2014 local elections, which is admittedly problematic (e.g. turnout needs to be higher in national elections) it remains an uphill battle for the DPP to capture a majority of seats. However, that should not prevent a discussion of what we may expect in that situation. While pan-blues may worry that the DPP would be emboldened to push a more aggressive Taiwanese independence agenda, this would be remarkably shortsighted on the DPP’s part. Instead, a unified government in 2016 would give the DPP the potential to in many ways redefine the image of the DPP, away from claims that the party lacks coherent policies on China and economic growth and towards distinct policy proscriptions such as social welfare.
A DPP legislative majority would be akin to entering uncharted waters, but also an opportunity to redefine Taiwanese electoral politics beyond debates on identity and Taiwan’s status, efforts that could increase the likelihood of holding onto a legislative majority.
Timothy S. Rich is an assistant professor in political science at Western Kentucky University. His main research focuses on the impact of electoral reforms in Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan compared to similar legislative systems (e.g. Germany, New Zealand). His broader research interests include electoral politics, domestic and international politics of East Asia, and qualitative and quantitative methods.