Taiwan elections

Over 530 candidates vying to enter Parliament

Supporters of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson and presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen wave flags during a campaign rally for the 2016 presidential election.
Supporters of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson and presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen wave flags during a campaign rally for the 2016 presidential election.PHOTO: REUTERS

The presidential election is the highlight next Saturday. But no less interesting is the sideshow - the parliamentary polls.

For the first time, both races are being held on the same day, which means that the popularity (or lack thereof) of the respective presidential candidates could affect the chances of their parties' legislative contenders.

And national issues, instead of just local matters, may also come to the fore.

So with the Democratic Progressive Party's (DPP) Ms Tsai Ing-wen as the front runner in the presidential race, one question is whether she has the coat-tails to carry her party's legislative candidates along.

Thus far, the DPP looks like it has a fighting chance to win a majority in the Parliament - which is unprecedented in Taiwan's history. More than 530 candidates are vying for the 113 seats up for grabs.

The Parliament acts as a check on the president, so if the DPP emerges triumphant in both races, the party will be firmly in control of the government, as the Kuomintang (KMT) now is.

Under such circumstances, ties between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait will likely enter a trough.

Ratification of trade pacts with China will be tough, if not impossible.

The services trade pact - which was signed but has yet to be passed by the legislature, as it was stalled by the Sunflower protest movement against it in 2013 - will continue to languish in limbo.

A DPP win - and its margin - will shed light on the extent to which the once-mighty KMT, now riven by in-fighting, is in a shambles.

More broadly, it will highlight how the KMT has not been able to keep up with changes in Taiwan's society and political landscape.

Former vice-president Annette Lu, who was Mr Chen Shui-bian's deputy, puts it thus: "Taiwan will have a new playing deck when it comes to politics and crafting policies. The blue and green camps will need to regroup and reorganise themselves."

Beyond the traditional KMT-DPP rivalry, one thing to watch is the emergence of the so-called Third Force, or small parties which tend to focus on social issues.

In particular, the New Power Party, formed by young activists in the wake of the Sunflower movement, has scored various high-profile candidates.

They include Mr Freddy Lim, 39, the singer of black metal band Chthonic and a former chairman of Taiwan's Amnesty International who has long lobbied for Taiwan's independence.

There is also Ms Hung Tzu-yung, 34, the sister of army corporal Hung Chung-chiu, who died in 2013 while being punished for taking a camera phone into an army base while serving conscription.

Ms Hung, who had lobbied the government to highlight "human rights problems facing our nation's soldiers", said: "Being a (political) novice is no longer an excuse for me to isolate myself from politics."

Criticising the current legislature for not meeting societal expectations of reform, she said she intends to work towards monitoring the executive branch and reforming the judicial branch, and "speaking up for Taiwan's new generation".

Other candidates range from Mr Chang An-lo, a former leader of the Bamboo Union triad, otherwise known as White Wolf, who is running for a small pro-unification party; to Mr Wuer Kaixi, a student leader during the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, who is running as an independent candidate.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 09, 2016, with the headline 'Over 530 candidates vying to enter Parliament'. Print Edition | Subscribe