379 candidates have registered for the 79 district and indigenous seats. This includes 356 for the 73 single seat districts, or nearly 4.9 candidates per district. In Taipei City, a whopping 63 people have registered for 8 seats. That’s nearly 8 candidates per seat. If that seems like a lot of candidates, it is. Many of these are not serious candidates. They clutter up the ballot, making it harder for voters to find the real candidates. They also slow down vote counting, raise printing costs (for the ballot and public election notice), waste bureaucrats’ time checking the candidates’ qualifications, and, worst of all :-), they force me to spend extra time whenever I construct a database.
If all the candidates really wanted to run, it would be excusable. However, many of these “extra” candidates don’t really want to run. They have registered so that their party can qualify to run a party list. According to the election law, a party can run a list if it meets one of four conditions: (1) win 2% in the previous presidential election, (2) win 2% in one of the three previous legislative elections, (3) have five incumbent legislators, or (4) runs 10 candidates in district or indigenous races. Newly established parties and minor parties almost all have to rely on the fourth method. They know they have almost no hope of winning single seat races, as those tend to be the province of the two major parties. However, in order to run a list, they have to run ten people in districts, hopeless or not.
This year, 18 lists have been registered, and six of those have qualified by one of the first three methods. That means 12 lists are relying on the fourth method. To put it another way, those 12 lists have nominated 120 district candidates, of whom about five have a prayer of winning a district seat. There are probably at least 100 extra district candidates because of the party list requirement. That’s about 1.25 extra candidates per seat.
Ironically, the election law is designed to discourage frivolous candidacies. Each candidate (or the endorsing party) is required to put down a deposit of NT200,000, and they forfeit this deposit if they do not win at least 10% of the eligible voters. Assuming 75% turnout, the threshold for getting the deposit back is 13% of all valid vote, a level that frivolous candidates rarely reach (almost by definition). In other words, you can enter the race on a whim, but it will cost you a pretty penny. The deposits are supposed to be set high enough to discourage frivolous candidates but low enough not to be a serious barrier to any realistic candidates. In elections without the party list provision, it has, in fact, worked pretty well. There are always a few hopeless candidates, but not too many.
Currently, a party that wishes to present a party list with five people on it must pay a deposit of NT3 million (10 district candidates + 5 list candidates * NT200,000). Basically, the NT2 million for the 10 district candidates is the cost of doing business. Even parties that hope to win a few party list seats know they have little hope of recovering that NT2 million in registration deposits. The requirement to find 10 eligible people adds very little to the financial deterrent.
Clearly, it is time to get rid of the fourth provision. It isn’t working, and it is arguably counterproductive by encouraging, rather than discouraging, frivolous candidacies. If the goal is to discourage frivolous party lists, a large registration deposit of NT2 million for a party list would do the job just as well as the current rule.
And if you like frivolous candidates, don’t worry. You can still have黃宏成台灣阿成世界偉人財神總統. He has registered as an independent.