I’ve been meaning to write a post about the DPP’s nomination controversies, but while I was dilly-dallying around Solidarity.tw beat me to most of what I was going to say. Hats off to you, S.tw.
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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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 to shame anyone who took the Wrong position or simply even dared to question his proposed electoral reforms.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
 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.)
 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.