So there’s a new poll out today showing that … blah, blah, blah. Let’s talk about something fun instead.
About two weeks ago, the Central Election Commission announced a draft plan for redrawing the legislative districts in the new Taichung, Tainan, and Kaohsiung Cities. The CEC will introduce the bill to the legislature sometime soon. Tainan County Executive Su Huanzhi 蘇煥智 has lobbed the first (public) volley, claiming the plan for Tainan is unreasonable. So let’s take a closer look at these plans.
First, the Greater Taichung plan appears to fall under the category “nothing to see here.” Six of the eight districts are exactly the same. The only change is very minor. In the old plan, two li in Dali City (accounting for a little less than 5000 votes in 2008) that had been given to another district to even out populations have been placed back in the district with the rest of Dali City (soon to be Dali District). That’s entirely reasonable since there is a general consensus against crossing administrative lines if it can be avoided, and 5000 votes isn’t really that many. After all, when part of a community is in one district and part is in another, the whole community gets less than ideal representation. Neither legislator thinks of that community as a core part of his constituency. Half of any effort he expends accrues to the benefit of some other legislator. In fact, this is part of a larger trend. In the current plans for the three direct municipalities, zero township lines are crossed. In the Taichung plan, the districts don’t even cross the former county/city boundaries.
The districting for the 7th (current) legislature was not so strict. A couple of township/district lines were crossed in Kaohsiung City as well as the aforementioned line in Dali City. It could be that those districts have been deemed failures and the CEC is learning. It could also be that there is something else. The obvious something else is factional organization.
Local factions are generally organized along administrative lines, so when you cross either county or township borders, you are splitting the strength of local factions. They get stuck in a position of having half of their members in one legislative district and half in another. This is less than ideal. More accurately, it is a disaster for them.
Factional politics have several effects. They are based on localism; they tend to be associated with money politics, corruption, and organized crime; they live off of pork-barrel projects. (There are also less-emphasized positive effects. In a multi-member district, they form a basis for equitably dividing strength among multiple candidates so that voters don’t waste their influence. They also integrate people into the system who otherwise would not be politically active.) In Taiwan, factional politicians are also (still) overwhelmingly associated with the KMT. Since the CEC has tended to make decisions favorable to the incumbent president, it is tempting to wonder if the CEC in 2007 was more willing to split up local factions than the CEC in 2010 because of the partisan effects. (Problem: the CEC didn’t make the final decision; the legislature did. I don’t know what the CEC’s plan was last time.)
There are costs to keeping the lines intact. The most obvious is unequal populations across districts. This is the CEC’s proposed plan for Taichung:
|1||大甲區、大安區、外埔區、清水區、梧棲區||Dajia, Da’an, Waipu, Qingshui, Wuqi||271755|
|2||沙鹿區、龍井區、大肚區、烏日區、霧峰區||Shalu, Longjing, Dadu, Wuri, Wufeng||342900|
|3||后里區、神岡區、大雅區、潭子區||Houli, Shen’gang, Daya, Tanzi||307397|
|West, Central, East, South||327287|
|8||豐原區、石岡區、新社區、東勢區、和平區||Fengyuan, Shigang, Xinshe, Dongshi, Heping||271437|
(Note: my population figures are slightly higher than the one’s cited on the CEC document. Most of the differences are within 5000. I am using April 2010 population stats. They might have been able to remove people with aboriginal status.)
The difference in population from district to district is striking. The largest is 45% larger than the smallest. The standard deviation is 44318.
Could we reduce these discrepancies? Sure. Here’s a plan a produced off the cuff. All of these districts are geographically contiguous, by the way.
|1||Dajia, Da’an, Waipu, Qingshui, Wuqi, Houli||326060|
|2||Shalu, Longjing, Dadu, Wuri, Wufeng||342900|
|3||Daya, Tanzi, Beitun (145287)||334527|
|5||East, North, Beitun (100000)||321580|
|6||West, Central, South, Dali (60000)||313499|
|7||Taiping, Dali (136736)||309291|
|8||Fengyuan, Shigang, Xinshe, Dongshi, Heping, Shen’gang||335289|
By ignoring a couple of township lines and liberally crossing county/city lines, I was able to reduce the standard deviation to 15682, with the biggest district being only 15% larger than the smallest. I’m sure I could easily top that if I were willing to work a little harder.
Is it illegitimate for the CEC to put forward a plan that is so blatantly unequal? From one point of view it is. The United States Supreme Court has staked out the position that representatives represent people, not trees. Appeals to community cohesion or geographic integrity must yield to the overriding principle of equal population sizes. I don’t remember exactly, but US districts are only allowed to vary by 1-2% at the most. However, the US Supreme Court’s opinion is somewhat extreme in the global spectrum. In most countries, population size is not the only, or even the primary, consideration. Considerable variation is allowed in the name of community solidarity and the like.
Still, 45% is a bit extreme. Population size was never meant to be the only criterion here, but it seems as if it has been demoted to a decidedly secondary consideration.
One other interesting tidbit about these districts. Look at the first two districts. District 1, which runs along the northern part of the coast, is small, with only 271775 residents. District 2, which is immediately south of District 1 and runs along the southern part of the coast and then south of Taichung City, is much larger, with 342900 residents. The two districts meet at Wuqi and Shalu Townships. Wuqi is in District 1, while Shalu is in District 2. Geographically, Wuqi is to the west of Shalu. To the north, they are both bordered by Qingshui. To the south, they are both bordered by Longjing. Here is the question: Why is Shalu, with a population of 80974 in District 2, while Wuqi, with only 55002 residents, in District 1? By putting Shalu with District 2 and Wuqi with District 1, the population inequality was exacerbated, not mitigated.
Geographic ties won’t explain this decision. Both Shalu and Wuqi have borders with the north and south, and there are plenty of transportation links. A justification to divide them the other way would have been easy.
A more likely explanation is historical political development. Some townships have closer historical ties than others. This usually dates to Japanese era decisions about police jurisdictions. In the ROC era, the police districts have been maintained and often extended to county assembly elections. So, for example, Dajia, Waipu, and Da’an townships are a county assembly district (and probably a police district), and they are conveniently put together in District 1. Likewise, Longjing, Dadu, and Wuri in District 2 have similar ties. However, this doesn’t explain our puzzle. Qingshui, Shalu, and Wuqi are a historical grouping. This group has to be broken up somehow, but I can’t think of any reason why it is appropriate to break off Shalu and not Wuqi.
I can, however, think of a good political reason. The KMT has an incumbent from Dajia, Liu Quanzhong 劉銓忠. Liu has been active for about 40 years. In the old days, he was in the Provincial Assembly, rising to Vice-Speaker, while his older brother Liu Songfan 劉松藩 held the seat in the Legislative Yuan and rose all the way to Speaker. There was another incumbent based in Shalu, Yan Qingbiao 顏清標. Yan is not formally a member of the KMT. Due to his extensive organized crime network, Yan and the KMT find it useful to maintain the fiction that Yan is actually an independent. On the other hand, the KMT has always undernominated to leave a space for Yan. In 2008, the KMT declined to nominate a candidate to run against Yan. So we are justified in thinking of Yan as a de-facto KMT member. There was a third relevant KMT incumbent as well, Ji Guodong 紀國棟, who is based in Dadu Township. Dadu is in the middle of District 2. So the KMT had three incumbents vying for two seats. Depending on which district Shalu, Yan’s hometown, was put into, there would potentially be a disaster for the KMT.
Further complicating these calculations, we must never forget Taichung County factional loyalties. The Liu family is the first family of the Red Faction. Both Yan and Ji are Black Faction members. If Yan and Liu were put into the same district, they might not be able to negotiate for one of them to stand down. Even if the two principals could come to some agreement, their factional networks might not stand for it. In other words, putting Yan and Liu together was potentially courting disaster for the KMT. On the other hand, putting Yan and Ji together was potentially less problematic. Since both belong to the Black Faction, there is probably a significant overlap in their political networks. These lower-level activists might push Yan and Ji to make peace in order to avoid the distasteful possibility of having to choose between them. In the event, the KMT put Ji on the party list and left District 2 open for Yan. In fact, three of Taichung County’s five districts went to Red Faction members (Liu Quanzhong, Yang Qiongying 楊瓊瑩) or Red-leaning politicians (Xu Zhongxiong 徐中雄), while the other two districts went to Black Faction members (Yan Qingbiao, Jiang Lianfu 江連福). When you add in Ji Guodong from the party list, there is a nice three to three factional balance.
All of this factional harmony (remember, the strategy worked brilliantly with the KMT sweeping all five districts) came at the low, low cost of having District 2 being 26% larger than District 1 instead of only 6% larger. Apparently, that was a price worth paying.