A bill has been introduced into the legislature to freeze the reapportionment process in legislative elections. If the bill passes, reapportionment will only occur once every ten years, with the next round in 2020. Changes in population and/or the redrawing of administrative boundaries will not affect the distribution of seats in the interim.
In the first reading, the bill was sent through directly to the second reading. Normally, the first reading assigns a bill to a committee, and the bill does not reach the second reading until after it is reviewed in committee. About 10% of bills (I should know the exact percentage off the top of my head, but I don’t) bypass the committee stage, and these bills are much more likely to eventually become laws. In other words, we must take this bill seriously.
The bill was introduced by the caucus of independent legislators, rather than by the KMT or DPP. Specifically, the bill originated from Li Fuxing 李復興, an independent legislator from Kaohsiung City who was elected as a KMT candidate. The DPP immediately accused the KMT of being behind the maneuver. The partisan motivations are obvious. The KMT currently holds six of nine seats in Kaohsiung, which would lose a seat, and zero of five seats in Tainan, which would gain the seat.
The bill is currently not scheduled for floor time in the legislature. Speaker Wang Jinping 王金平 has instead said that the bill will go to interparty negotiations to seek a consensus. I doubt they will find one there. In addition to the obvious conflict in partisan interests, Wang’s ability to broker a deal is compromised by the fact that he is from Kaohsiung County and is still deeply involved in local faction politics there.
Personally, I think this is a naked power grab and an obvious violation of the accepted democratic rules. People in favor of the change are pointing to the American practice and the desirability of having stable districts. Taiwan, unlike the United States, has never based its reapportionment process on the decennial census. Taiwan’s population statistics, which are so good that the University of Michigan’s Population Studies Center used to use them as its ideal case, give an accurate count of the population at the end of every month, whereas the USA really never knows exactly what its population is except for once every ten years (and even that number is shaky). Taiwan has always reapportioned seats at every election, and a decision to stop doing this right now needs a very good reason and a political consensus. Otherwise it is a deinstitutionalization of accepted practices. If you can rearrange these rules for partisan gain, what else is up for renegotiation? In one sense, democracy is nothing more than a set of accepted rules for resolving conflict. Sometimes the difference between a technical exercise and partisan warfare is simply a notion that the process is fair because it is the one that is always used and the losers this time could easily be the beneficiaries next time.
The USA logic is also based on the notion that the USA is a federal country, and the various states are “sovereign” governments with certain inviolable rights. So the proposed change doesn’t make sense in two ways. For one, Taiwan is a unitary state and has no need to pretend that its subordinate administrative units have inviolable rights. For another, if you redraw the lines (as has been done with Tainan and Kaohsiung), the administrative units that are supposed to be respected no longer exist.
Redistricting is an inherently political process, and so it doesn’t bother me too much when parties try to extract the maximum possible partisan advantage. Reapportionment in Taiwan in 2010 should be a purely technical exercise. Efforts to politicize it really get me riled up.