For the KMT, it was a dismal legislative election. Even many seemingly entrenched incumbents were swept aside in the enormous DPP wave. For almost all KMT challengers, it was beyond hopeless. Amidst all this ruin and rubble, there were a couple of KMT newcomers who bucked the trend. In particular, Lee Yan-hsiu 李彥秀 and Chiang Wan-an (蔣萬安 Wayne Chiang) managed to push their way into the legislature. Assuming it can’t get worse for the KMT and the pendulum will probably swing back toward the blue camp, Lee and Chiang survived the harshest test and should be set up for long careers in the legislature. They both have districts that should be solidly blue in most years, so defending that turf should be less challenging than winning it in 2016.
I’ve got some bad news for Lee and Chiang. They are about to lose their districts. More precisely, Taiwan is due to redraw legislative districts before the 2020 election, and their districts are almost certainly going to change in ways that they will not like. To make things worse, they really can’t do much to stop the process. The DPP, by virtue of controlling both the legislative and executive branches, has the final say. If the DPP wants to screw Lee and Chiang over, it can.
The Central Election Commission (CEC) has ruled that legislative districts within any given city or county must be within 15% of the mean population. Here’s the problem. Lee’s District 4 is no longer within that range. It was barely under the 15% limit when the districts were drawn in 2006, and it had grown to 21% over the mean by the 2016 election. It has to be redrawn.
|Pop.||% of mean||Pop.||% of mean|
Let’s take a step back and discuss some of the basics of redistricting. In principle, administrative districts are supposed to be respected. That simply is not practical in Taipei, with its eight legislative districts and only twelve administrative districts. Some of them will need to be split. However, that does not give designers carte blanche to go crazy and draw Americans-style districts. Take a look at the official map of the current districts. No administrative district is divided into more than two legislative districts. Moreover, the lines don’t look like they go around particular neighborhoods. The Tianmu 天母 neighborhood is put into D1. In Songshan 松山區, the dividing line between D3 and D7 is Nanjing E. Rd. 南京東路, a major thoroughfare. The only one that seems somewhat arbitrary is the line between D5 and D8 in Zhongzheng 中正區, though even that line roughly corresponds to the old Guting area 古亭區. It turns out that the first two of these were somewhat strategic, helping the KMT (who dominated the process in Taipei City in 2006) to ensure that D1 and D4 would be good KMT districts. However, the point for us is that the strategic aims are not obvious at first glance. They weren’t too brazen. (In fact, the DPP might not have even recognized they were being played.)
The Taipei City Electoral Commission (TCEC) gets the first crack at drawing the new districts. Someone in the city government (usually a deputy mayor) will likely chair the TCEC, and they should be able to nudge things in the directions that they prefer. The TCEC plan is sent to the CEC, which can alter it if there is a problem. Unless the TCEC violates the 15% rule, the CEC will probably respect the TCEC recommendation. The CEC then submits the plans to the legislature. The legislature cannot revise the plans. It can only pass them. If it does not pass the plan, the speaker and premier jointly decide what the final electoral districts will be. This means that the speaker and premier can throw away the CEC plan and substitute anything they like. Since both the speaker and premier are DPP members, the DPP can pass anything it likes.
The DPP’s priorities will be to (1) protect the two DPP incumbents in D1 and D2 and the NPP incumbent in D5, (2) create more winnable districts, (3) cause problems for the KMT incumbents, and (4) even out the population differences across districts.
I originally thought that D1 and D2 might be ripe for redrawing. D2 has more than enough DPP voters who might be redistributed to other districts to make them more competitive. However, there are a couple factors that make this unlikely. First, D1 and D2 are almost exactly the right size. There is no obvious reason to redraw the lines. Any change would be attacked as being made solely for the DPP’s political benefit. Second, these are the two DPP incumbents, and incumbents generally don’t like changes. The DPP incumbent in D1 might not mind giving away some of Tainmu (a relatively blue neighborhood) and getting better areas of Shilin 士林區, but the DPP incumbent in D2 would probably resist this. So I’m going to assume that D1 and D2 will be unchanged.
D5 is the other green camp seat. It is slightly undersized right now (9% under the mean), but that is still within the 15% range. Moreover, there are no good neighborhoods to add to it. Everything to the south and east is heavily blue. Keeping the current district is defensible, so that is probably what they will do.
If D5 is unchanged, D8 should probably be left alone as well. One of the informal guidelines is that no administrative district should be broken in more than one place. Since the other part of Zhongzheng is almost exactly the right size when combined with Wenshan 文山區 and D8 is so blue that there is almost no hope that the DPP could ever win it, there is little reason for green designers to want to change D8.
That leaves the other four districts, and this is where it gets fun. Let’s start with the current D4, which includes Nangang 南港區 and Neihu 內湖區. This district is too big and will have to be split up. At first glance, one might think about splitting one of the two administrative districts, but I have a better option. Neihu plus the Dazhi 大直 area of Zhongshan District 中山區 is almost the perfect size. (On the map, Dazhi is the area of Zhongshan north of the Keelung River 基隆河. Roughly, connect the northern borders of Songshan 松山區 and Datong Districts 大同區 in your mind and take the area north of that.) Dazhi and Neihu run together, so this is a natural fit.
This new D4 is also politically devious. Dazhi is a fairly blue area, so taking it out of D3 and putting it into D4 will be a minor disaster for the KMT’s D3 incumbent, Chiang Wan-an. For D4, replacing Nangang with Dazhi will make Lee Yan-hsiu’s district bluer, but there is another problem for her. However, we are getting ahead of ourselves.
What to do with Nangang? It turns out that Nangang and Xinyi 信義區 can fit together nicely to form a new D7. Since the actual boundary between the two administrative districts are small streets and it is hard to tell where one ends and the other begins, this is another fantastic (read: defensible) combination.
What are the political effects? Lee Yan-hsiu is from a Nangang family. We have now divided her Nangang base from the majority of her electoral district. (Her old city council district was also Nangang and Neihu, so she has spent decades working these voters.) She can either go with 70% of her district into the new D4, or she can try to keep her core areas but contest a completely new set of voters in Xinyi. If she chooses D4, she might well lose a primary fight to a Neihu politician. If she chooses D7, she will either have to beat the incumbent or convince him to retire. Neither way is very appealing for her or for the KMT.
This leaves two districts in the middle of the city. D3 now includes the southern part of Zhongshan and all of Songshan. This D3 should be a competitive district. D6 is Da-an, and it is solidly blue. But wait, we have one final trick. This D3 is 19% over the mean, a bit too big. Meanwhile, Da-an is 7% below the mean. We can shift a few neighborhoods from D3 into D6. Since Zhongshan has already been divided, the neighborhoods should come from Songshan. Which neighborhoods? That depends on how daring you want to be. There is a square in the middle of Songshan district that is very blue (the Minsheng Community 民生社區), while the border areas of Songshan are all greener. If you just take the southwest corner of Songshan, there isn’t much political effect on D3. However, if you stretch that up a bit into the center of Songshan, you start to remove some of the KMT’s best areas. This could be deadly to Chiang Wan-an. However, it would also be patently obvious to anyone looking at a map. This is not a natural line. I decided to split the difference, taking only one extra neighborhood on the southern border of the Minsheng Community. This probably won’t be the actual final district. The DPP will either take the high road and not include that extra neighborhood or go ahead and take one or two more neighborhoods on the logic that, since there are going to be screams anyway, they might as well go ahead and transfer 10000 more deep blue votes from D3 to D6.
What does that leave us with? This table shows I’m going to use eligible voters as a substitute for population since the CEC election database doesn’t report population for each neighborhood. The two rarely differ by more than 2%, so the difference is negligible. All of these districts are within 10% of the mean of eligible voters, so I am confident that they are also within 15% of the population mean. (* indicates no change in district boundaries.) I’ve also included a column with Tsai Ing-wen’s (DPP) presidential vote in each of the proposed districts. If these numbers look high, remember that Tsai won 52.0% citywide.
|Eligible||% of mean||Tsai|
|3||S. Zhongshan, Songshan||287040||1.07||52.8|
|5||Wanhua, N. Zhongzheng*||248868||0.93||53.1|
|6||Da-an, SW Songshan||278852||1.04||47.0|
|8||Wenshan, S. Zhongzheng*||252360||0.94||43.9|
Here’s a map of the central parts of the city (excluding most of the northern two and the southern administrative districts). You can see that the district lines appear to be fairly reasonable looking. There aren’t any crazy and unnatural shapes, with the exception of that one little bump going up near the Minsheng Community.
The green side currently holds D1, D2, and D5, and these are the three districts in which Tsai got the highest vote share. In my new plan, D3 has been redrawn so that it is almost as green as D5. In the original D3, Tsai won 51.9%, so the DPP has gained 0.9% (and the KMT lost 0.9%). If Chiang Wan-an runs for re-election in 2020 in this district, he will be fighting on significantly tougher turf. The new D4 is actually a bit bluer than the old D4 (Tsai: 51.9%), but I’m fairly sure Lee Yan-hsiu would rather have her old district than have to choose between the new D4 or D7. The DPP has a slightly better chance to win in the new D7 (old D7 Tsai: 49.3%) and D6 (46.6%), but these are going to be tough targets.
What’s my advice to Lee and Chiang? They probably have no way of avoiding these districts (or whatever other districts the DPP wants to impose on them). They have three choices. First, they can put their heads down and try to win re-election in the new, less friendly districts. Second, they can avoid the problem by trying to move up the ladder. The conventional wisdom is that they are too young and inexperienced to be viable mayoral candidates, but successful politicians often climb the ladder faster than expected. The KMT doesn’t have an obvious nominee already in place, so why not Chiang or Lee? Third, they could try to change the game. If the electoral system is changed to a German-style MMP system, these lines won’t matter so much. Chiang and/or Lee could publicly call for electoral reform, which would both give them a national reputation as a forward-looking reformer and also resolve their impending re-election challenge.
There is still one other possible twist to the redistricting story. There exists a fifth possible winnable district for the DPP. However, producing that district would require them to violate all the established norms of fair play. They could do it, and it will tempt them. There are several ambitious DPP city councilors who will probably never get into the legislature without this district. Best of all, it barely overlaps at all with the DPP’s current four winnable districts. I could draw this district with minimal disruption to DPP concerns. Do the DPP leaders have the moral fiber to resist this temptation?
Since I love a good moral conundrum, here is the district. If you take most of the neighborhoods along the Keelung River (the border between Nangang and Neihu) and then also add in the northeastern corner of Xinyi and the southeastern corner of Songhan, you can draw a district that would have just enough population (eligible voters: 251411; 6.5% below the mean) and would be roughly as green as D1 (Tsai: 54.4%). Of course, it would cut up four administrative districts, look terrible, and it would require all the neighboring districts to look terrible as well. Some of the areas south of this district would only be connected to the next district only by mountain hiking trails. I could draw this district and satisfy the letter of the law, but I’d have to step all over the spirit of that law. In the USA, they would do this without a second thought. At least in 2006, Taiwanese designers showed some restraint and eschewed this type of district.
Does this post make you queasy about Machiavellian partisan machinations? It’s only going to get worse each redistricting cycle as the parties learn how to game the system and knock down norms of restraint one by one. The long-term solution is electoral reform (MMP!) so that the district boundaries do not have such a dramatic effect on winning and losing.
 The way the KMT is going these days, this may not be such a reasonable assumption.
 52.0% for the DPP presidential candidate in Taipei City??? Are you kidding me!! I’m still not used to the idea that the DPP can win a straight party to party fight in Taipei.
 Barack Obama is a classic example.
 In mixed-member proportional systems, the party list ballot determines the total number of seats a party will win. Winning an extra district seat doesn’t increase the party’s total number of seats, so there is little reason to violate norms of fairness to draw friendlier districts.