Cablegate: Anatomy of a Taiwanese Ly Election

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (U) Summary: Individual and party strategies for the
December 11 Legislative Yuan (LY) election will be shaped in
large part by Taiwan's complex election system, which
combines direct elections with proportional representation.
The structures of both the direct and proportional elections
promote smaller parties and more extremist candidates, and
facilitate factionalization within the two major parties.
Furthermore, the multi-member districts used in the direct
elections encourage parties and candidates to focus on
tactics over issues. If the National Assembly confirms the
constitutional revisions passed in August to reform the LY's
structure, this will be the last election conducted under the
system. End Summary.

The Constituency Seats

2. (U) Campaign season is underway for the 6th Legislative
Yuan, which will start its three year term on February 1,
2005. All 225 seats in the LY are at stake in the elections
scheduled for December 11. Of these, 176 will be directly
elected from 29 geographical electoral districts, each
corresponding to a city, a county, or a subdivision of a
large city or county, and two ethnic districts reserved for
plains and mountain aborigines, respectively. Based on
population, each geographic constituency sends from one to
thirteen representatives to the LY. The aboriginal districts
are fixed at four members each. However, no matter how many
members will represent each district, voters everywhere get
only one vote to use on one candidate each. Those candidates
receiving the most votes win the election. Any surplus votes
cast for a particular candidate beyond the number required to
get elected cannot be used to help another candidate from the
same party who did not get enough votes.

The Single Non-Transferable Vote System

3. (U) This system, known as single non-transferable vote
(SNTV) balloting, can and often does result in strange
election outcomes. In the 2001 LY elections in Nantou County
the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) took 35.1% of the vote
and won two seats. The KMT, despite doing slightly better
with 37.5% of the vote won only one seat, the same number as
the People First Party (PFP), which took 11.7% of the vote,
or less than a third of the KMT's share. The reason for
these anomalous results was the overwhelming popularity of
one KMT candidate, former Kaohsiung mayor Wu Dun-yi. Wu took
the lion's share of the KMT vote and left his colleague with
too few votes to get elected. Under the SNTV system,
candidates compete not only against candidates from the
opposition parties, but also against others from their own

Nomination Strategy is Key

4. (U) Taiwan's SNTV election system requires that parties
accurately predict how much support they will get in each
district so that they can nominate the right number of
candidates. A party that nominates too many candidates in a
district risks spreading its votes too thinly and losing
seats. Likewise, nominating too few candidates means
forfeiting seats that might easily have been captured. Yet
even a party that perfectly forecasts its support level in a
district and nominates an appropriate number of candidates
could have its plans spoiled if the disgruntled candidates it
did not nominate decide to run anyway as independents,
cannibalizing their former party's vote. Such so-called
"mavericks" rarely get elected, but they often dramatically
influence the outcome of tight contests.

Vote Distribution Tactics

5. (U) Nominating the right number of candidates is only half
the battle. A successful campaign also depends on optimally
sharing votes among the nominees to avoid the type of
lopsided distribution that was so disastrous for the KMT in
the 2001 Nantou election. In rural districts this is often
accomplished by focusing the campaign on different candidates
in different areas or having local factions and organizations
like Farmers Associations rally their respective members
around specific candidates. These techniques are less
effective in urban areas, where voters are harder to
subdivide geographically and are more influenced by the media
than by community leaders and social institutions. In
response to this, some parties try to implement coordinated
vote-distribution ("peipiao") schemes where loyal voters are
asked to support a specific candidate based on things like
the month of their birth or the last digit of their national
ID number.

Reserved Seats for Women

6. (U) Complicating Taiwan's constituency LY elections
further, a rule stipulates that at least one of every five
seats in a district must go to a woman, even if male
candidates receive more votes. This adds yet another layer
of complexity to the tactical considerations that go into a
campaign in districts with five or more seats at stake.
Popular DPP incumbent Su Chih-fen's decision not to run for
reelection in Yunlin County, for example, led some to
speculate that part of her motivation was to leave the
reserved female seat for her ally Yin Ling-ying of the Taiwan
Solidarity Union (TSU).

The At-Large Seats

7. (U) The 49 remaining seats in the LY are considered "at
large" and are filled according to proportional
representation. Votes for candidates in all of the SNTV
districts are tallied according to party, and parties that
receive at least 5% of the total popular vote divide the
at-large seats according to their share of the vote. Because
eight of the at-large seats are reserved for the "overseas
Chinese" community, parties actually nominate candidates for
the proportional seats on two separate lists. Predictably,
the definition of "overseas Chinese" is often stretched by
candidates hoping to get nominated to that list. It is not
unheard of for politicians to have family members in the US
petition for their immigration shortly before an election so
they can move overseas and be eligible for nomination. After
winning election, they move back to Taiwan to serve their
term. In an even more peculiar twist, an overseas candidate,
if elected, must renounce any foreign citizenship in order to
be seated. If they wish to run for reelection as an overseas
candidate, they must then renew their overseas status, for
example by obtaining a new immigrant visa. However, in the
end, no party renominated an incumbent "overseas Chinese"
legislator, obviating the need for a ruling by the Central
Election Committee on what constitutes an "expatriate."

Ramifications : Tactics Over Issues

8. (U) Taiwan's complicated electoral system for the LY has a
number of important political ramifications. At the party
level, the peculiar requirements of the SNTV system cause
parties to expend much of their focus and energy on voting
mechanics. The main strategic concern is nominating the
right number of candidates in each district, and the campaign
is then dominated by tactical concerns like mobilizing voters
and distributing them equally among candidates. Policies and
issues tend to take a back seat. Issue-based campaigns, in
particular, are to be avoided because they can easily lead to
a situation where one candidate becomes too popular and
thereby squeezes out other allied candidates.

Intra-Party Factionalism

9. (U) Furthermore, because candidates compete with members
of their own party as much as (if not more than) with members
of opposition parties, SNTV encourages intra-party
factionalism and an emphasis on local connections and
personalities. Those in danger of losing an election,
particularly, tend to focus their attacks on members of their
own party rather than the opposition, because it is far
easier to steal votes from an ideologically similar opponent.
A breakdown in discipline is especially likely if a party
has overnominated, or there are too many mavericks. In such
situations, candidates decide it is "every candidate for
himself," peipiao schemes are abandoned, and a better
disciplined party usually claims an extra seat or two.

10. (U) Factionalism rears its ugly head in the at-large
elections as well. The at-large seats added in 1991,
ostensibly to represent the mainland and overseas Chinese
communities, were unofficially intended as a means of
increasing party cohesion and bringing more professionals and
minorities into the LY. In reality, positions on the
nomination list for these "safe" seats are often treated as a
currency for party leaders to buy the loyalty of various
party factions.

Independents, Gangsters and Vote-Buying

11. (U) Additionally, the low election threshold in
multi-member districts makes it possible for independents,
single-issue candidates, gangster bosses, or anybody else
with strong personal connections and deep pockets to win and
hold onto an LY seat. In Taoyuan county's thirteen member
district, for example, a reliable 4-5% of the vote is all
that is necessary to take a seat. The margin of victory
between the last-place winner and the first runner-up in the
larger districts also tends to be extremely small (often just
a few hundred votes) increasing the temptation for, and
effectiveness of, vote-buying and voter intimidation.

Changes Likely for Next Election

12. (U) A proposed constitutional amendment passed by the LY
in August (reftel) will halve the number of seats in the LY
to 113, lengthen the term to four years (to match that of the
Presidency), eliminate the "overseas Chinese" seats and
replace SNTV with a single member district "first past the
post" system. This will help address the many obvious flaws
in the existing system and weed out extremist and nuisance
legislators from the LY. However the amendment has not yet
been approved by the National Assembly and any changes would
not take effect until 2008. The current election will be
held under the old rules and all the complications arising
out of that system will be a prominent part of the campaign,
as they have been in past elections.

© Scoop Media

World Headlines


OECD: Final Quarter Of 2020 Shows Continued Recovery In G20 International Merchandise Trade

G20 international merchandise trade continued to rebound in the fourth quarter of 2020 ( exports up 7.2% and imports up 6.8%), following the sharp falls seen in the first half of 2020, as lockdown measures affected trade globally. Although growth ... More>>

UN Report: Civilian Casualties Surged After Peace Talks Began In Afghanistan

Monitoring by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, UNAMA, and the UN Human Rights Office has revealed that despite a drop in civilians killed and injured overall in 2020 there was a rise in civilian casualties following the start of peace negotiations ... More>>

Climate: UN Chief Lauds ‘day Of Hope’ As US Officially Rejoins Paris Climate Accord

The official return of the United States to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change represents good news for the country and the world, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said on Friday during a virtual event to mark the occasion. The US, under ... More>>

Focus On: UN SDGs

2021: Critical Year To ‘reset Our Relationship With Nature’ – UN Chief

During this time of “crisis and fragility”, the UN chief told the United Nations Environment Assembly on Monday that human well-being and prosperity can be vastly improved by prioritizing nature-based solutions. Painting a picture of the turmoil ... More>>

Paris Agreement: UN Secretary-General António Guterres To Mark U.S. Reentry With Envoy For Climate John Kerry

Watch live at UN Secretary-General António Guterres will join U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John F. Kerry at an event marking the United States’ reentry into the Paris Agreement this Friday. The discussion with the Secretary-General ... More>>

WeBeliev: Scoop In Conversation With Abhishek Sinha, Founder Of WeBeliev, An NZ Crowdfunding Platform

WeBeliev supports 17 SDGs, launching sector specific campaigns every month Q. What is WeBeliev and why did you start it? A. WeBeliev is a Singapore-registered crowdfunding platform aimed at fundraising for all the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) ... More>>