Taiwan Insight: Will Small Parties Change Taiwan’s Political Landscape in 2020?

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Although the political winds now seem to be blowing favourably for Tsai and the DPP, the wider challenges related to reform and governance that led to the party’s damaging defeat in the 2018 local elections have not gone away, and the party’s ability to win a majority in the Legislative Yuan is still in doubt. Taiwan uses a mixed electoral system that allocates 73 seats to the single-member constituency tier and 34 to the proportional representation (PR) tier. The system favours large parties over small ones and has helped to consolidate a two-party system dominated by the DPP and KMT. In the 2016 legislative elections, the DPP won 68 out of 113 seats with 18 seats coming from the PR tier, securing a majority for the first time in its history. This time, however, the DPP is cautious about its prospects of retaining its legislative majority. If both the DPP and the KMT fail to achieve legislative majorities, small parties will once again play a critical role.

Three small parties have a good chance of winning seats in the legislature through the PR tier: the People’s First Party (PFP), the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP), and the New Power Party (NPP). With its chairman James Soong on the presidential ballot, the PFP has a better chance of crossing the 5% threshold to be awarded at least two PR seats. The Taiwan People’s Party, founded by current Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je, expects to win at least four seats. The prospects for both the PFP and TPP have been further strengthened by the possibility of siphoning votes from KMT supporters disaffected by its current party list. Finally, the NPP expects to again cross the 5% threshold, despite a damaging split over cooperation with the DPP causing legislators Freddie Lim and Hung Tzu-yung to leave the party.

If both major parties fail to win a majority, they will need to secure the support of the minor parties to win the presidency of the Legislative Yuan and pass legislation. The DPP may be able to count on support from NPP legislators due to the closer ideological affinity between the parties, while the KMT may be able to count on the support of the PFP for the same reason. However, the PFP and the NPP’s likely two seats each in the legislature may still be insufficient for either the DPP or KMT to gain a majority, meaning the TPP could have a pivotal role in determining legislative government.

The TPP is a new species of party in Taiwanese politics, because it did not split from a larger party, like the PFP, and is not positioned on the independence-unification ideological spectrum like the NPP. Instead, the TPP focuses its appeals on good governance and efficiency, which it argues are necessary when facing a rising China. Most of its 6000 party members are young, educated voters who have never joined a political party before. The party calls itself a “white force,” placing it outside of the traditional blue-green spectrum and attracting voters who have lost faith in the two established parties.

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Will Small Parties Change Taiwan’s Political Landscape in 2020?

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