Should the DPP yield districts?

I’ve been meaning to write a post about the DPP’s nomination controversies, but while I was dilly-dallying around beat me to most of what I was going to say. Hats off to you,

Let’s recap. Last week, Lin Yi-hsiung 林義雄 publicly lambasted the DPP for refusing to yield 20 legislative districts to the Social Democratic Party and the New Power Party. While Lin Yi-hsiung is a self-appointed Moral Beacon who we are not supposed to question, his logic was terrible. This had the useful effect of forcing many DPP mouthpieces to point out all the reasons why the DPP should not simply stand aside. Let me see if I can summarize these arguments (plus a few of my own).



  1. The DPP cannot get a majority on its own. It needs to cooperate with smaller parties. The DPP should extend the Ko Wen-je 柯文哲 model to the legislative elections.
  2. If it only yields 13 districts and the two smaller parties must run in at least 20 to be eligible for the party list, the DPP is effectively suffocating them.
  3. The DPP is nominating several city councilors who just won new terms last December. Those people have a solemn democratic contract with the voters and must serve out their terms.



  1. It is up to the voters to decide if they can accept a serving politician’s decision to try to jump to a new office before finishing the current term.
  2. The Ko Wen-je model involved convincing people who had previously voted for the blue camp to vote for him. There is no indication that the SDP or NPP candidates have cross-camp appeal.
  3. Arguably the most important element of Ko’s success was his opponent. None of the KMT’s legislative candidates seems as inept and unlikeable as Sean Lien.
  4. Ko got DPP support by defeating the DPP choice in a poll. Lin is demanding that DPP aspirants simply step aside. The DPP has been willing to let the strongest candidate run, but the NPP and SDP haven’t been able to find many (any?) strong candidates.
  5. DPP voters might not be able to accept being told to vote for a NPP or SDP candidate. The parties don’t have strong party reputations or popular candidates. How can the DPP tell its supporters to vote for a candidate who is a stranger from a party they know almost nothing about?
  6. It isn’t the DPP’s job to devote resources to other parties. If those people wanted to draw on DPP resources, they should have joined the DPP. In fact, they explicitly decided that they didn’t want to be part of the DPP. They valued purity over power. By the way, Lin Yi-hsiung dropped out the DPP several years ago. Why does he think he can tell the DPP who to nominate?
  7. Electoral politics is a game of opinion aggregation. You have to combine the support of many people who will inevitably have some differences of opinion. Successful electoral parties are all big tents. The SDP and NPP have failed at this basic concept. They started with a fairly narrow base and then further divided into two parties. If they can’t even cooperate among themselves, why should the DPP pay them any heed?
  8. Is the DPP also supposed to yield 10 seats each to the Green Party and Tree Party, who also subdivided an already tiny electoral base?
  9. Taiwan has a majoritarian electoral system that crushes small parties. If the DPP wants to win governing power, it has to pay attention to the incentives created by the electoral rules. By the way, Moral Beacon Lin Yi-hsiung is more responsible than any other person for Taiwan’s current electoral system. Ten years ago, he knew what was Right and used his Moral Superiority[1] to shame anyone who took the Wrong position or simply even dared to question his proposed electoral reforms.
  10. Some of the SDP and NPP candidates want to run in districts such as New Taipei 12, which include significant rural populations. Elections in these areas run along a different logic from urban areas. You need to slowly build organizational power over a period of several years. Yielding to a SDP or NPP candidate in such a district would be tantamount to yielding that bloc of voters to the KMT candidate. That, in turn, would ruin any chance of winning the district.
  11. The DPP can’t afford to even signal to voters that it is ok to vote for the smaller parties in the party list tier. The “progressive” side has six(!) parties (DPP, TSU, NPP, SDP, Green, Tree). With a 5% threshold, that means the DPP would have to yield more than 25% of its support to them (and spread it evenly) or risk throwing away votes. If the five small parties each got only 4%, that would swing about six seats to the blue side. Given that the electoral system already gives a mild advantage to the blue side in malapportionment (ie: Lienchiang and Aborigines are overrepresented), the green side cannot afford to give away any PR seats. Perhaps if the four smaller parties merged into one party, the voters might have some confidence that it could pass the 5% threshold. However, they have instead chosen to subdivide their already tiny base.


If you haven’t figured it out already, I don’t think much of Lin’s arguments. Electoral politics is a high-stakes game for political power, not a summer camp for nurturing naïve but earnest activists. Supporting idealistic but hopeless candidates at the cost of yielding governing power to the other side is simply irresponsible.

If the green side is to win a majority, it will have to be competitive in some of the “difficult” districts and even win a few. In fact, the DPP seems to think that its people have a chance in some of them. I have seen comments that the potential DPP candidates lead the KMT incumbents in both New Taipei 1 and New Taipei 12 in internal DPP polling. Take that with a grain of salt, but if there is any chance at all the DPP has to doggedly go after it. They should resist any thought of yielding those districts simply to make some tiny splinter party look better.

If Lin wanted small parties in the system, maybe he should have thought about that a decade ago. Perhaps he should have listened to voices trying to tell him what would happen instead of shouting them down.[2]

One nice thing is that the small parties seem to have clearer heads about their relationship with the DPP than Lin does. A few have commented that they are not in the DPP and want to maintain some distance from it. I don’t particularly share their enthusiasm for purity, but at least they understand the consequences of their choice.



[1] It was a good week for Morally Superior people. Morally Superior presidential candidate Shih Ming-teh 施明德 went on a talk show this week. When DPP city councilor Kao Chia-yu 高嘉瑜 asked him if his proposal of a Greater China above the ROC and PRC was basically the same as the KMT position he threw a temper tantrum. How dare she put a hat on him! She is such a lazy student! Shih punctuated his petty outburst by slamming his fist on the table. Yes, of course! It is completely unacceptable in a democratic system to ask someone running for the presidency to clarify and defend their position on the most important question facing the country, given that that person is Morally Superior. (I wonder what St. Wang Chien-hsuan 王聖人 was doing this week.)

[2] Why am I so wary of people with a strong sense of right and wrong? A basic premise of pluralistic democratic politics is that people have different values and want different things. In an authoritarian society, someone can designate certain values as “correct,” and this implies that other values are “wrong.” People holding “wrong” values are often struggled against. To give two examples, communist states often label people as “enemies of the people,” and Thais will put you in jail if you dare to question the existence of the monarchy. In a democracy, we don’t have to struggle against people who disagree with us. We simply label them as partisans. If they are in the opposition, we ignore them as harmless crackpots. If they are in the governing coalition and implement policies consistent with those values, at least we don’t have to publicly acknowledge that those policies and values are “right.” We can openly disagree and try to reverse them in the future. Acknowledging that there is no such thing as an absolute “right” or “wrong” allows us to accept diversity of opinion in society, promotes tolerance, and provides democratic politics with space to breathe.

9 Responses to “Should the DPP yield districts?”

  1. Pat Says:

    I can see why Lin would think that the DPP should leave some seats open for the NPP given the two parties have agreed to an alliance, but why on earth would they be obligated in to do the same for the other three parties, each of which has expressly refused to co-operate with the DPP in any way, shape, or form? It makes no sense.

    It’s also interesting that he and some others are claiming the DPP has no hope at securing a majority in the legislature come January. While the KMT does have a structural advantage and a number of entrenched incumbents, neither of those factors will prevent the DPP from securing a majority if they wind up winning the presidential election by anything more than 3 or 4 points, which looks like a given at this point in time. It’s one of the reason’s why Chu’s candidacy is so critical – he’ll likely lose, but he will lose by a small enough margin that the KMT won’t have it’s legislative caucus massacred.

  2. ジェームス (@jmstwn) Says:

    Are there any tracking polls of how people will vote on the party list? It’s an interesting and important thing to measure and would help with strategic voting. I am certain the KMT and DPP run such polls internally and would bet the results are one reason the DPP isn’t giving in to the little parties’ requests for more space. The worst-case (but very possible) scenario for the NPP, SDP, Tree, and Green parties is they’re all just dividing the Greens’ 2% of the vote while taking a bit of support from TSU.

  3. R Says:


    Here’s one from a poll commissioned by the Taiwan Thinktank (台灣智庫) on 2015.05.16, starting on page 30 of this report,

    Specifically for riding vote intentions:
    25.2% DDP
    19.1% KMT
    _3.8% PFP
    _3.3% NPP
    _2.6% TSU
    _2.1% Greens
    _0.9% NP
    _0.4% MKT
    _0.3% SDP
    _1.4% Others

    24.6% Not decided
    _0.6% Undeclared

    & for party list vote,
    33.4% DDP
    26.7% KMT
    _6.6% PFP
    _4.4% TSU
    _3.6% NPP
    _3.3% Greens
    _1.5% NP
    _0.9% SDP
    _0.4% MKT
    _0.2% Others (Tree?)

    13.8% Not decided
    _0.8% Undeclared

  4. frozengarlic Says:

    Take that party list vote, and throw away all the undecideds and others (assuming they won’t vote). If you group all the others into two big camps (blue=kmt, pfp, new, mkt; green=rest), the green camp gets 19 seats while the blue camp gets 15. You also get this 19-15 split if you simply merge the NPP, Greens, and SDP. If you consider the parties individually, the score is DPP 16, KMT 13, PFP 3, TSU 2, or 18-16. (By my recalculation, the TSU had 5.4% of the vote. If you assume the TSU won’t pass the threshold, it beomes DPP 17, KMT 14, PFP 3, or 17-17.)

    The four-seat difference between 19-15 and 17-17 is basically the same as the KMT’s advantage in the nominal tier due to malapportionment.

  5. Tommy Says:

    “Acknowledging that there is no such thing as an absolute “right” or “wrong” allows us to accept diversity of opinion in society, promotes tolerance, and provides democratic politics with space to breathe.”

    Haha. Paradox. If everyone acknowledged that there is no such thing as an absolute “right” or “wrong”, there would be an absolute “right” or an absolute “wrong” depending on the point of view. But there cannot be an absolute “right or wrong”.

    Sorry, I got your point, but it did get me thinking about the consequences of this statement.

    • frozengarlic Says:

      Moderation is one key to democracy. Democracy needs idealists, but it will crack apart if everyone is an idealist. It needs pragmatists, but it will descend into venal corruption if everyone is simply pragmatic. So believe what you believe, but try being only 90% sure about it. And remember that people on the other side are 90% sure that you are wrong.

  6. Tommy Says:

    Lighten up. Not everyone is out to undermine argumentation, especially through pointing out rhetorical fallacies, which are usually fun from a semantic perspective but are irrelevant in other contexts.

  7. Zla'od Says:

    Slight nitpick: The Thais will put you in jail, not only for questioning the existence of the monarchy, but for criticizing any member of the royal family. Once a passenger on Thai Airways was jailed for a week for arguing with the passengers next to him (who happened to be minor royals) about whether he should lower the window shade.

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