Academic journal article China Perspectives

Taiwan Elections 2008: Ma Ying-Jeou's Victory and the KMT's Return to Power

Academic journal article China Perspectives

Taiwan Elections 2008: Ma Ying-Jeou's Victory and the KMT's Return to Power

Article excerpt


Taiwan's legislative and presidential elections in January and March 2008 marked a turning point in the country's political development. With the accession of Ma Ying-jeou to the presidency of the Republic of China (the official name for Taiwan), the Chinese Nationalist Party or Kuomintang (KMT) has recaptured executive power after eight years of adminis- tration by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Backed by its increased majority in Parliament, the KMT now has full power to implement its programme. Looking beyond results, these elections also mark a resounding success for Taiwanese democracy and its consolidation. Unlike 2004, when defeated KMT candidates chal- lenged the results with street demonstrations and legal manoeuvres even though the organisation of the polling had been exemplary, this year's presidential election took place without incident, and the result was immediately accepted by the DPP. The KMT's victory brings a sec- ond switch of power in eight years, and confirms the bed- ding down of democratic institutions and practices on the island. In this article, we will look back at the legislative elections before analysing in detail the results of the pres- idential poll and the lessons to be drawn from it. Finally, we will examine the challenges that the new president confronts over the economy, relations with China, and national identity. (1)

Legis lative elections

Analysis of the results

The elections for the new Taiwanese parliament, the Legislative Yuan (LY), were held on 12 January 2008. The poll presented some new developments compared with ear- lier elections. Only 113 seats were at stake, the number halved since the last election, and legislators faced a term of four years as against three previously. The voting system was also changed, the multi-member constituency system (2) hav- ing been abandoned in favour of a "single-member district, two vote" system. Seventy-three deputies were directly elect- ed in single-member constituencies, while a separate vote distributed 34 seats proportionally to political party lists, and six seats were reserved for Taiwan's aboriginal minority. At the same time, two referendums were held, one over the assets of the KMT (tabled by the DPP) and the other call- ing for action against corruption (tabled by the KMT).

The results gave a substantial victory to the KMT, which for the constituency vote brought under its name the whole of the Pan-Blue coalition (made up of the KMT, the People First Party - PFP - and the Chinese New Party - NP). With 53.5 percent of the votes, the KMT and the PFP won 81 seats out of 113, exceeding two thirds of the new parliament. With the additional support of four independ- ent representatives, the Pan-Blue camp now controls up to three quarters of the LY, which gives it control over the country's legislation unequalled since the early 1990s. The DPP, on the other hand, suffered its worst defeat in 20 years, returning only 27 seats despite a relatively strong total of 38.17 percent of the votes.

The KMT's LY victory was expected. By itself or with its allies in the Pan-Blue camp, the KMT has actually won every legislative election in Taiwan since the country was democratised. Its long domination of Taiwan and its bedrock support within local politics, including a good voting network ensured by control of numerous local fac- tions and associations, give it a definite electoral advan- tage. Opinion polls before the election had also predict- ed a KMT victory. Yet, the scale of the party's success came as a surprise, especially in terms of seats. Further analysis provides several explanations for this.

First, there were technical reasons. Because of the reduc- tion in the number of representatives, and in order to guarantee that the Legislative Yuan included representa- tives from each county (xian) and municipality, the rules on equal political representation (prescribing one repre- sentative for every 300,000 electors approximately) were stretched a little to give one seat each to the less populat- ed counties in East Taiwan (Hualien, Taitung) and the islands in the Strait of Formosa (Kinmen, Matsu, Penghu). …

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