Twofish's Blog

January 12, 2008

Wow….. News from Taiwan Elections

Filed under: politics, taiwan — twofish @ 4:55 pm

Wow……..  The KMT won 86 seats in the legislative elections.  That’s absolutely amazing.  Much better than I imagined.

Politics is a hard thing.  It’s hard when you lose.  It’s even harder when you win.  Now comes the hard part of trying to figure out how to turn an electoral mandate into something that benefits society.  So why did the KMT win big?

1) The new electoral system was wildly biased in favor of the KMT.  Taiwan just moved to a single member district system.  This benefits the KMT is a lot of different ways.  Single member districts magnify small differences.  The rules are set up so that every county has at least one seat which gives the KMT 10 seats for free.  Northern counties tend to be 60% in favor of KMT whereas southern counties are 90% for DPP, and a single member district magnifies that.  The KMT was able to marginalize the PFP whereas the DPP was less successful with the PFP.  The electoral system that was used in this case was so wildly in favor of the KMT that had the KMT been in power all of this time, the DPP would have (rightfully) been screaming.  However since the DPP agreed to this, they don’t have any grounds to complain.

My guess as to why the DPP agreed to this electoral system is that Chen Shui-Bian seems to want to make policy without consulting technical experts, and this is an example in which it was disastrous for the DPP.

2) Chen Shui-Bian would not shut up.  Chen has a popularity rating of 20%.  In this situation, the logical thing to do is to have Frank Hsieh portray himself as a “new fresh start” and to distance himself from Chen.  The trouble here was that Chen would not let him.

3) Taiwan has changed in the last eight years, and the KMT recognized how Taiwan has changed whereas the DPP has not.  The DPP under Chen has been stuck in the late-1990’s or even the late-1980’s and taking about themes that make no sense to Taiwanese voters today.  The DPP’s theme was about KMT oppression and corruption, and they haven’t had the recognition that they have been in charge the last eight years.  You have a new set of voters that were born completely after the KMT authoritarian period and when they think “corrupt party” they think DPP not KMT.

This extended to the independence theme.  One trouble with talking about Taiwan independence is that in a polarized political context, people will try to change the meanings of words and define terms to mean what is most political favorable to them.  It’s a neat trick in political debates, but it makes trying to figure out what people really want to be difficult.  Different people want different things, and people want complex and often contradictory things.  My sense of the Taiwan electorate is that most Taiwanese really don’t care that much about a seat in the United Nations.

They do care about self-government and they really care about “Mainland arrogance” but Beijing has been very quiet and careful about this.  Every time Beijing opens its mouth, something stupid comes out that makes people in Taiwan angry so in most situations the best thing for Beijing to do is to just shut up.  That’s what they did in this situation.  Also what has helped a lot is the communications between the KMT and Beijing.  I’m pretty sure that people from the KMT were quietly advising people in the Taiwan Affairs Office on what to do and say and what not to do and say, and Beijing was listening since the KMT knows more about the electoral politics of Taiwan than anyone in Beijing does.

Personally, this is one reason I do like multi-party parliamentary systems.  It’s a bad thing if you have a single group of people in power for a long period of time and that goes for any group, and the nice thing is that Taiwan has come up with a system in which power can shift without anyone getting killed in the process, and that’s a tremendously difficult thing to bring about.

It makes life difficult for politicians and people who are passionate about politics.  One reason to enjoy moments of victory is that they don’t last for very long.  I remember how dark things were for me in 2000, and I also remember how scared and depressed I was in 1996 during the Taiwan straits crisis.  There have been moments of shear defeat before, and they will happen again, but as much as I disagree with the DPP, knowing something about how they *feel* right now makes me act in nice ways since I hope they will return the favor when the KMT gets defeated in a massive landslide at some point in the future.

One thing that helps me think about politics is to think about people playing roles as actors on a stage.  I turned out to be an ardent Chinese nationalist and reunificationist largely because of who my parents were and because of events in my life and their lives that were almost random.  Change history, then I turn into a different person.  The side that you play in a historical drama is something that you can’t control.  What you can control is how you play it, and that’s where being honorable and gracious comes in.

Another thing that politically passionate people forget is that most people don’t think like them.  The reason *I* support the KMT is that I’m a strong Chinese nationalist with emotional attachments to the cause of Chinese reunification.  People that think like me make up a very, very small fraction of the Taiwanese electorate so one thing I have to do is to come up with arguments and ideas that appeal to much larger numbers of people.   I don’t hide what I believe and what I want to do, but I do realize that it is irrelevant for most of the people I try to convince.  One thing that makes me different from a lot of the people in the DPP, is that I don’t think that people “naturally” believe things.  You have to spend a lot of work thinking about how to package your ideas and present arguments that people care about.  One of the hardest things for someone who is politically passionate to do is to *SHUT UP AND LISTEN*, but listening to people is the most important part of what you need to do.  Even the simple act of listening to someone and taking what they say seriously helps you to get their votes.

About Chinese reunification, one thing that makes me strongly supportive of Taiwanese democracy is how much closer we are to Chinese national reunification than we were in 1980.  We aren’t close, but we are much closer.  The process of national reunification involves undoing damage that took decades and it’s going to take decades, and in the mean time the world changes.  Taiwan is much more firmly integrated into the greater Chinese economic community than it was in 1980, and as long as no one panics, we could see a “temporary agreement” that freeze things while people make the necessary political and economic understandings to make things happen.

A lot of conversations that I’ve had with people involve “Ha!!! Ha!!! This poll shows that Taiwanese are against you so *give up*.”  I don’t react this way to polls, since what I believe is too important to me to give up even if everyone  else disagrees.  If it turns out that 30% of the people in Taiwan agree with me, then I’ll think of ways to turn that into 35%.  If 5% agree, I’ll think of ways to turn that into 10%.  If only one other person in Taiwan agrees with me, I’ll find that one person and see we can turn two to three.  Yes, it feels lousy to be in a room when everyone else things you are crazy, but you get used to it.  It’s in defeat that you have to think about what you really believe and why.

Anyway I’ve been thinking what I would do if I were a DPP supporter.  I have some ideas on what Frank Hsieh should do, but I don’t want to give away too many ideas to the other side, but I’ll mention something obvious.  The big challenge he has right now is to avoid demoralization of his supporters and to outline a vision that prevents organizational collapse.  He has to do this and he has to do this quickly.

As for me, I’ll have to spend the day thinking about how this fits into my own plans…………..



  1. u r so irrational….u seem to want to ‘change’ people to suit your agenda and viewpoints without appreciating the independence and autonomy of other people. You say you are’strongly supportive’ of Taiwanese democracy but you don’t seem to appreciate what the term ‘democracy’ means which is respecting the will of the people. Thus, if the Taiwanese ppl want to maintain Taiwan independence so be it. You don’t go try ‘change’ their will and opinions to suit yours…thats simply another form of dictatorship, a dictatorship not of physical power, but of mental power…from a Taiwanese.

    Comment by chinese chic — January 13, 2008 @ 6:48 pm

  2. The trouble with talking about the “will of the people” is that people have different “wills” and different people have different ideas on what to do. If you talk to people on Taiwan, you’ll quickly find that different people what to do different things. People who talk about “will of the people” suddenly get into a lot of difficulty when they find out that 1) people don’t have unified wills and 2) even when they do, they don’t agree with what they want to do.

    What democracy means to me is that people talk, trying to convince each other they they are right, and try go compromise. What democracy *doesn’t* means to me is that if 50.1% of the people want something that this is what people should do. What democracy also doesn’t mean to me in a Taiwanese context is that Taiwan gets to decide the status of Taiwan without considering the international and global ramifications of its actions.

    One thing that got Chen Shui-Bian in trouble with the United States is that Washington DC didn’t like Chen’s views on “democracy” which basically meant that Taiwanese get to vote on independence but the US has to bail Taiwan out if it causes a bad reaction from the PRC. The idea that Taiwan can unilaterally decide its status is something that is completely unacceptable to the United States or Japan, since US and Japanese troops would likely be pulled into a war if things go bad.

    It’s also the responsibility of people who are interested in politics to try to change people’s minds if they can. I don’t see how this is “dictatorship”. I also don’t how wanting to change someone’s opinions doesn’t respect their independence or autonomy. If you listen to what I have to say and you still aren’t convinced, then you aren’t convinced, and I’ll have to go back and think of another argument.

    I think this actually benefits the DPP right now. Pan-Blue just won 75% of the seats in the Legislative Yuan with more than 50% of the party vote. Does this mean that pan-Blue can do whatever they want now? Absolutely not. Democracy means respecting the rights of the minority and letting the minority try to use arguments to convince people that they are right so that they can become the majority.

    Comment by twofish — January 13, 2008 @ 9:43 pm

  3. You mean as they (Pan-blue) did the last eight years when they also had the majority in the legislative?

    Mmmm you do not really “know” the KMT. They only recognize one place as their own… and it is the seat of power that belongs to them by “natural right”.

    Comment by kailing — January 14, 2008 @ 3:20 pm

  4. For the past eight years, the KMT has been the opposition party and the DPP has been the ruling party in Taiwan. The KMT has figured out how to be an opposition party, whereas the DPP never quite understood that it was now the ruling party, and that the martial law period ended two decades ago.

    There are people voting in Taiwan that were born after martial law and after Tiananmen, and talking about Chiang Kai-Shek or transitional justice makes absolutely no sense to them. The are voters that were in elementary school when Chen Shui-Bian took official and to them corrupt ruling party means DPP not KMT.

    One of the big advantages that the KMT has over the DPP is that KMT has been near death before. This is probably the fourth or fifth time that the KMT has bounced back, and it is nowhere near the most serious loss (that would be in 1949 when it lost the Mainland). One of the reasons that the KMT has been able to bounce back is that it has a core set of beliefs (The Three People’s Principles under Sun Yat-Sen) that is at the same time stable enough so that people can believe them for decades, yet flexible enough so that they can change to changing events.

    Power doesn’t come naturally. You have to work for it.

    Comment by twofish — January 15, 2008 @ 2:46 am

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