Record number of smaller parties seek legislative seats in Taiwan election

A supporter displaying the Taiwan flag during a campaign rally by Kuomintang presidential candidate Han Kuo-yu in front of the Presidential Palace in Taipei on Jan 9, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

TAIPEI - Each voter will collect three ballots as Taiwanese go to the polls on Saturday (Jan 11) to elect a president and a new legislature.

One ballot will be for president and vice-president, the second for a district legislator, and the third for a political party. Together, the latter two make up what Taiwan calls its "single-district, two-votes system".

It is a hybrid one involving a first-past-the-post system for legislators in 73 single-member districts and a separate proportional representation system for 34 at-large seats which will be distributed to parties based on the percentage of votes received. Half of the candidates for at-large seats must be women. Six remaining seats will be reserved for candidates of aboriginal descent.

This electoral system - adopted in 2008 when the number of seats in the legislature was halved from 225 to 113 and the term for members raised from three to four years - is getting a lot of attention this year.

Many believe the results might break the stranglehold the two main parties in Taiwan - the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the Kuomintang (KMT) - have exerted in the legislature over the years.

Control has shifted between the two bitterly opposed parties, making legislature meetings and Bill-passing inefficient, with one or the other threatening to "boycott" votes, staging walk-outs during voting or blocking their opponents from entering the legislature.

The previous election in 2016 witnessed a big jump - 63 per cent - in smaller parties entering the fray, and the New Power Party (NPP), which was founded just a year earlier in 2015, performed creditably, snagging two at-large seats and three district seats.

A total of 19 political parties and 216 candidates are taking part in the poll this year, a record for a legislative election.

The DPP and Kuomintang have taken aim at the smaller parties this time around, urging voters to eschew them.

"It's a waste to vote for smaller parties," DPP secretary-general Luo Wen-jia said in November.

Likewise the KMT slammed People First Party chairman James Soong and his at-large candidates for splitting the pan-Blue votes. "He is sacrificing the greater good for personal gain," said the KMT.

Support for the two main parties in Taiwan is often lumped into two camps - the pan-Blue of the KMT and pan-Green of the DPP.

Opinion surveys indicate that older voters will be rooting for the KMT or the DPP in Saturday's poll but younger voters are still mulling over their choices.

Among the smaller and newer parties, Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je's The People's Party, environmentally-conscious Green Party Taiwan, left-leaning Taiwan Statebuilding Party and the NPP are popular with younger voters.

Mr Ko has been presenting his party as a "third choice" for people who are tired of the two major parties. "Blue and green are both terrible" was a frequent mantra of his at campaign events in November and December.

"I haven't decided which party to vote for... but my friends are supporting NPP or the GPT," said Yu Chien-wen, 29, who helps manage her father's factory in China. Ms Yu is a self-proclaimed "idiot" when it comes to politics but she says she is bent on doing more research this year because of the number of choices available.

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