Archive for May, 2018

Hsinchu County has unequal districts too!

May 30, 2018

This is unbelievable. The CEC’s plan for Hsinchu County is terrible. Remember, Hsinchu County just increased from one to two seats, so they are not even maintaining an old district that has grown unbalanced. They are designing a brand-new uneven districting plan. The CEC doesn’t care at all about equal populations. This is inexcusable.


The gory details. Hsinchu County has 13 towns. The current plan is as follows:


District 1 竹北市 181419 312702
  新豐鄉 56800 (+17.9%)
  湖口鄉 77500  
District 2 Other 10 towns 217712 217712


Could I do significantly better without violating the sanctity of township district lines, geographical contiguity, traffic patterns, and the rest? Yes, it took me about 5 seconds to figure this out.

District 1 竹北市 181419 236461
  新豐鄉 56800 (-10.8%)
District 2 Other 10 towns 217712 293953
  湖口鄉 77500 (+10.8%)

Please note that most of the growth in Hsinchu County is concentrated in 竹北市, so the current plan will get worse and worse over the next decade. My revised plan would get more and more equal over the next decade.


This one isn’t hard. It’s supposed to be the Central Election Commission’s job to do common sense policy like this.

What the hell is wrong here?


The CEC abdicates its duty 中選會推動票票不等值原則

May 30, 2018

The Central Election Commission has abdicated its legal responsibility to oversee the drawing of fair district for elections to the Legislative Yuan. There are at least three cities in which population growth since the districts were drawn in 2007 has created large disparities in population between different districts in the same city. The law says that districts should be redrawn every ten years precisely to adjust for things like population growth, but the Central Election Commission has chosen simply to keep the old districts. In the bill it sent to the legislature on May 29, it proposed no changes in New Taipei and Taipei Cities and only a minor and inconsequential change in Taichung. With this egregious violation of the principle of “one person, one vote, each vote with equal value,” the CEC has failed to uphold its public duty.


To be clear, I am not talking about apportionment to different cities and counties. That is a separate question, and frankly the differences between the various options on the table are small. The CEC’s press release stressed the apportionment, and the media is following that lead. Most news stories today are about Pingtung losing a seat or Hsinchu County gaining a seat. I am talking about a different – and much more consequential – topic. After eight seats are apportioned to Taichung City, for example, eight districts must be drawn. I’m talking about the drawing, not the apportioning. This latter process has gone wrong, and the media is completely missing the story.


Redistricting is based on the Civil Servants Election and Recall Law (see here for entire text in English and Chinese). The two important articles are Article 35 and Article 37. Article 35 says that electoral districts should be reconsidered every ten years, and any necessary adjustments should be made according to the guidelines in Article 37 (每十年重新檢討一次,如有變更之必要,應依第三十七條第三項至第五項規定辦理). Article 37 says that the Central Election Commission has the duty to draw a draft plan for electoral districts to send to the legislature (由中央選舉委員會劃分). The districts should “be divided with consideration of the administrative regions, population distribution, geographical environment, traffic conditions, historical origins, and the quota of electees” (前項選舉區,應斟酌行政區域、人口分布、地理環境、交通狀況、歷史淵源及應選出名額劃分之。).

In 2005, when it had to draw all the districts for the first time, the CEC issued a set of guidelines interpreting these laws. There were three main tenets. First, within each city or county, districts should not deviate from the mean population by more than 15% (每一選舉區人口數與各該直轄市、縣(市)應選名額除人口數之平均數,相差以不超過百分之十五為原則). Second, townships should not be divided unless their population exceeded 115% of the mean; otherwise all of a township should be entirely contained within a single electoral district (單一鄉(鎮、市、區)其人口數達該直轄市、縣(市)應選名額除人口數之平均數以上者,應劃為1個選舉區). Third, if it was necessary to divide a township, they should use tsun or li as the subunit; tsun or li were not to be divided (必要時,得分割同一鄉(鎮、市、區)行政區域內之部分村里(村里不得分割)).

The CEC guidelines also fleshed out the process. Each city or county election commission was instructed to draft a plan, and this should be submitted to the CEC by the end of March (各直轄市、縣(市)立法委員選舉區,先由各直轄市、縣(市)選舉委員會研擬劃分草案及理由,於95年3月底前報中央選舉委員會). The CEC would then organize a districting committee to draft a bill to send to the legislature by the end of May, taking the drafts from local election commissions along with suggestions from legislators as a reference (本會組成立法委員選舉區劃分專案小組,參考直轄市、縣(市)選舉委員會之選舉區劃分草案,擬具立法委員選舉區劃分建議案,於95年5月底前提報本會委員會議審議). (These guidelines can be found in 第七屆立法委員選舉暨全國性公民投票案第3、第4案實錄, page 106).

I’ve been very careful to list the legal foundations because I want to stress several points. First, all districts are supposed to be reconsidered every ten years. Second, equal population is clearly listed as one of the criteria for drawing acceptable districts. Third, the CEC is given the legal responsibility to draft a bill to send to the legislature.

It has been suggested to me that the ten-year clause applies only to apportioning seats, not to adjusting seats within a city or county. There is some legal gray area here, since the rest of Article 35 deals with apportionment. However, I believe that this argument will not hold up to scrutiny. By this argument, it is unnecessary to adjust electoral districts no matter how lopsided the population distribution becomes as long as the city or county never gains or loses a seat.  The constitutional principle of equality requires some respect for ideal of “one person, one vote, each vote with equal value” (一人一票,票票等值). At some point, deviations in population must be addressed. If so, there is no reason not to address them when all districts are reconsidered every ten years.

It has also been suggested to me that the CEC doesn’t have the authority to (a) force a local election commission to propose a new plan or (b) reject a plan proposed by a local election commission because it violates the 15% rule. These are clearly wrong. The law delegates power to the CEC and does not mention any local election commission. The CEC set up its own internal rules, asking local election commissions to present drafts. However, the CEC’s rules made it perfectly clear that it would only “reference” those drafts when preparing its bill for the legislature. The CEC absolutely has the authority to reject a local draft.

Finally, I want to ask why the 15% threshold is sacred. It isn’t. The 15% threshold was adopted by the CEC in 2005 apparently without any public debate. As far as I know, no rationale was ever publicly provided. Nevertheless, the law requires that district designers take population distribution into account, and this was the guideline adopted. If you believe 15% is the wrong number, you still have to propose some guideline for taking population distribution into account. As a practical matter, 15% proved to be entirely workable. In 2007, it proved possible to draw all districts while respecting the 15% guideline and still respecting historical origins, traffic patterns, administrative districts, etc. It is still workable today; I could easily draw all the districts without violating the 15% guideline. 15% has proven to be flexible enough, and existing rules generally should not be changed without a good reason. At any rate, 15% is the guideline that the CEC itself set up, and now it has apparently decided – with no explanation at all – to ignore that guideline.


How bad are the current districts? In some cases, one voter’s ballot is worth 1.60 times as much as another voter’s ballot in the same city. These differences will get larger over time. The fastest growing areas already have the largest populations, so population growth will increase disproportionality over the next few years. If the districts are not adjusted for another three terms, some districts will probably have twice as many voters as others by the time the next redistricting occurs in 2031.

I can’t give exact numbers for Taipei since I can’t find the indigenous population figures for tsun and li in Nov 2017. The Taipei numbers are estimates, but they are probably not wrong by much. Red numbers are violations of the 15% threshold.

Six districts violate the 15% threshold, and another three districts are very close to that limit. There is no reason for such enormous population differences in so many districts. In New Taipei, District 1 has 1.60 times as many people as District 6. In Taichung, District 5 has 1.60 times as many people as District 8, and the second biggest district, District 7, has 1.45 times as many people as the second smallest district, District 1. In Taipei, District 4 is estimated to have 1.34 times as many people as District 7. To put that another way, compared to New Taipei District 1, every two people in Districts 6, 7, or 9 get three votes. Some people have much more valuable votes than others do.

(Taoyuan is fine, so it was reasonable for them to keep their existing districts. I assume most other places that kept their old districts are also fine, but I have not checked yet. I also have not looked at the new districts in Tainan, Kaohsiung, Pingtung, and Hsinchu yet.)


New Taipei: mean=327579

New Taipei 1 421744 +28.7%
New Taipei 2 351193 +7.2%
New Taipei 3 316314 -3.4%
New Taipei 4 360558 +10.1%
New Taipei 5 312074 -4.7%
New Taipei 6 263128 -19.7%
New Taipei 7 284186 -13.2%
New Taipei 8 316314 -3.4%
New Taipei 9 290712 -11.3%
New Taipei 10 345923 +5.6%
New Taipei 11 339628 +3.7%
New Taipei 12 303847 -7.2%


Taichung: mean=343911

Taichung 1 271558 -21.0%
Taichung 2 362357 +5.4%
Taichung 3 317986 -7.5%
Taichung 4 392303 +14.1%
Taichung 5 418126 +21.6%
Taichung 6 332553 -3.3%
Taichung 7 394972 +14.8%
Taichung 8 261436 -24.0%


Taipei: mean=327579

Taipei 1 (estimate) 341325 +2.4%
Taipei 2 (estimate) 328926 -1.3%
Taipei 3 (estimate) 357159 +7.1%
Taipei 4 (estimate) 406070 +21.8%
Taipei 5 (estimate) 303070 -9.1%
Taipei 6 (estimate) 308788 -7.4%
Taipei 7 (estimate) 302962 -9.1%
Taipei 8 (estimate) 318840 -4.4%


Taoyuan: mean=353118

Taoyuan 1 (estimate) 385916 +9.3%
Taoyuan 2 (estimate) 362369 +2.6%
Taoyuan 3 (estimate) 349239 -1.1%
Taoyuan 4 (estimate) 356003 +0.8%
Taoyuan 5 (estimate) 335798 -4.9%
Taoyuan 6 (estimate) 329386 -6.7%


Why didn’t they adjust the districts? This is not a pro-DPP or pro-KMT manipulation. It is a pro-incumbent manipulation. Incumbents want to keep their existing districts where they have spent years building up their mobilization networks. They don’t want to be exposed to new voters. They especially fear that they might be challenged by politicians who have better connections to those new voters.

It’s not surprising that legislators don’t want to change. But democracy isn’t set up to make things easier for politicians. Voters generally want politicians to be worried about public opinion. We want them to worry about being responsive to popular demands and to spend lots of energy doing constituency service. We don’t want complacent and entrenched politicians who are impossible to kick out of office. The point of democracy is for voters to choose politicians, nor for politicians to choose voters.

This is precisely why the law gives the power to draft a districting bill to the Central Election Commission. Individual legislators do not have the formal right to draw their own districts. Unlike legislators, the CEC is supposed to care about maintaining a fair playing field by insisting on respecting principles such as equal population. If they don’t do it, no one will. Not only does the CEC have the power to insist on following even population guidelines, it has the obligation to do so. It is precisely the institutional body entrusted with that task.


Instead, the CEC has abdicated its duty. Today, it deserves round condemnation and universal scorn. It blindly and obediently went along with legislators’ schemes to entrench themselves at the expense of the general populace. The CEC has failed us.

Han is, um, unique

May 23, 2018

The KMT has nominated Han Kuo-yu to run for Kaohsiung mayor, and I want to say a few words about him. This is a near hopeless race for the KMT, so Han is highly unlikely to win. Chen Chi-mai is almost certain to win, and he is a talented and promising politician who will join Lai, Lin, and Cheng vying for the 2024 presidential nomination. So this is not an post about the horse race; it is about how Han is not a normal KMT candidate.

The KMT has been doing terribly in the south for several years, but it can’t afford to write off the entire region. If it wants to be competitive in future presidential races, it has to figure out some sort of appeal for southern voters. What it has now just isn’t working. The KMT could have nominated a standard KMT candidate and tried the same script again; instead it nominated Han who promises to try a new strategy.

Han came up in Zhonghe politics, up in New Taipei City. He served three terms in the legislature (1992-2001), though he was pretty anonymous. He drew strength from the KMT’s Huang Fu-hsing military system, and he was a pretty standard military-sponsored politician. Like a couple other Huang Fu-hsing representatives (eg: Shih Tai-sheng), Han also is reported as having extensive ties to organized crime gangs. (Gee, that was a strangely constructed sentence!)

Han mostly disappeared from the public eye for about 15 years. Then, a couple years ago, he emerged as head of the Taipei City farmers association, where he was allied with former Yunlin county magistrate Chang Jung-wei (who other people have also suggested might just perhaps be deeply enmeshed in criminal networks).

And then last year, Han ran for KMT chair. He didn’t win; he only got 5.8% of the votes. However, his discourse was interesting and very different from all the other candidates. I watched all the debates on youtube, and this is what I wrote about Han:


Five of the candidates sounded rather similar. Han sounded completely different. During both debates, Han didn’t talk about things like the 1992 Consensus, KMT party assets, or other partisan topics. Instead, he talked about the difficulties of everyday life for lower income and less educated people. Good jobs are scarce, drug use is common, things are too expensive, and life is generally hard. Notably, he did not blame all of these woes solely on President Tsai and the DPP. He was complaining about the effects of President Ma’s policies just as much. His discourse was limited to expressing the pain felt by the lower class. He did not bother to offer any solutions, not even Trump-esque claims that everything could be easily fixed if only someone really wanted to. This was a campaign aimed at the people who know the system is rigged against them and will continue to be rigged against them. It was also aimed at young men, especially the types who might drive a truck or join a gang. This may not have been the best strategy for a KMT party chair race, since I would wager that KMT members are less likely than the general population to be young, unemployed, financially struggling, or to feel that the system is rigged against them. Nevertheless, Han didn’t do terribly. I wonder how many candidates will pick up this campaign strategy for the city and county councilor elections next year.


There are two names that I really don’t want to drop into this post, but I can’t think of any better way to make the point. The first is Donald Trump. Han is pushing an angry, populist message aimed at young and middle-aged men with low education levels and who want blue collar jobs. There are, of course, lots of aspects of Trump’s discourse that are missing (eg: immigration, attacks on the media, anti-trade), but the target audience is similar.

The second name—well maybe I’ll just let you guess. Unlike the standard-issue KMT-allied (alleged) organized crime boss (think Chang Jung-wei, Lo Fu-chu, Yen Ching-piao, Lin Ming-yi, …), Han is not merely allied with Chinese nationalism for convenience or patronage benefits. Coming from the Huang Fu-hsing system, Chinese nationalism is a core principal for Han. This makes him a different type of gangster. I am suggesting that the KMT might be interested in seeing how Han’s discourse plays out, but I suspect the PRC is also watching this very closely. If Han does well, they might be even more aggressive in sponsoring crime gangs in Taiwan politics.


I don’t know if Han’s message will work. I suspect it will not. If it doesn’t, he doesn’t have the deep organizational networks to overcome the lack of a compelling message. It’s entirely possible that more conventional KMT city council candidates will panic and encourage a more standard politician to run an independent mayoral campaign, worrying that their voters will not want to turn out to vote for a mayoral candidate like Han. However, if Han somehow manages to break into the low 40s, KMT presidential and legislative candidates (in green districts) in 2020 might decide to copy his populist approach. It’s worth keeping an eye on.

(Would it have been wrong to title this post “Han Solo” just for the extra clicks?)

DPP divorces Ko

May 17, 2018

I’ve been too busy to blog much. I’m way overscheduled for most of the rest of the year, so this probably won’t be a great year for Frozen Garlic. Sorry. I’ve been thinking about this post for about two weeks, and, unlike most of the things I think about these days, I finally found some time to sit down and bang it out.


The DPP has finally made a decision about the Taipei mayoral race. It will not cooperate with Ko Wen-je this time and will instead nominate its own candidate. This decision to split with Ko has been building for a long time.

Four years ago, the DPP was desperate to win what seemed an impossible race in Taipei. They didn’t have a strong candidate of their own, and they (and their new young allies from the Sunflower Movement) absolutely detested the KMT nominee, Sean Lien. Ko Wen-je emerged seemingly from nowhere as a viable candidate who was generally sympathetic to DPP ideals, and yet he was different enough to pull a few votes from the KMT base. The DPP yielded to him, and he eventually won with a seemingly unfathomable 57% of the votes. Ko was lauded in the media as an electoral juggernaut, but let’s not forget that he was running against a terrible KMT candidate. Ko was probably never as popular as he was made out to be. As mayor, Ko governed as an independent. He appointed people from both sides to his mini-cabinet, and he pointedly mostly stayed home during the 2016 election. He did not go out of his way to reinforce ties with the DPP.

That would have been fine. Mayors are not really expected by the national parties to do specific things. As long as they are competent and don’t get into any major scandals, the parties are pretty much ok with anything else. The decisions to pay down Taipei debt, stop the Taipei Dome project, tear down lots of overpasses, and not build very much are not at issue.

What really damaged Ko was his trip to China when he famously uttered that people on both sides all belong to the same family 兩岸一家親. With that statement, he crossed a line for many DPP supporters. Ko later “explained” that he worried about the possibility that China would cause problems for the upcoming University Games, so he was willing to say whatever was necessary to “get through it” 過關. China is famous for asking Taiwanese to go one step further, and Ko is not the first person to fall into this trap. Eric Chu did the same thing right after taking office as KMT chair in early 2015. Ko, like Chu, was guilty of thinking that he was simply playing word games, and that he could be cleverer than everyone else. The problem is that you can’t win that game. You can’t say one thing to one audience and another thing to another audience. On this topic, everyone is always watching, and everyone sees and hears everything you do and say. Moreover, everyone understands the little nuances of the words, and when there is ambiguity, unfortunately China’s superior international presence and influence allows it to clarify the ambiguity as it sees fit for the rest of the world. Ko might have thought he was cleverly walking a thin line without falling over by plausibly meaning that the two sides are distant relatives from the same family, thus implying no need for unification. However, it could also mean that the two sides are close family. Ko might have satisfied China (which certainly chose to hear the latter interpretation), but DPP supporters back home also heard Ko’s ambiguity and wondered why they had put him in office.

There is only one way to play the word games with China, and that is not to play them. You have to carefully settle on a formula that says exactly what you want to say and then stick doggedly to that formula. You simply cannot “go a little further” in order to make a few PRC officials at a banquet happier; any deviations from the formula have to be carefully planned and vetted. Cleverness is not an advantage; you have to stick to the script. Ko may think he is the smartest person in the room, but that lack of humility is exactly why he messed up.

Let’s also be cynical about Ko’s motives. He probably wasn’t just worried about the University Games. After freezing out the Tsai government and with the impotence of the KMT, the PRC was actively looking for a new partner in Taiwan. Ko was exploring whether he might fit into that role. His ambiguous statement about the nature of Taiwan was a message to China that he might be someone they could work with if they wanted to bypass Tsai. Likewise, China’s appeal for him to go a little further was a probe to see if he might be their conduit. In this sense, Ko was not merely building amiable ties between the Taipei and Shanghai city governments; he was actively undermining the Tsai government’s ability to demand that the PRC deal with Taiwan’s national government.


At the beginning of this year, the DPP still had not decided whether to cooperate with Ko again. From the outside, it certainly looks to me as if President Tsai was the strongest voice in favor of cooperation. In January, she lobbed a softball to Ko, publicly asking him to “reassure” everyone that he shared “Taiwan values”. All Ko had to do was state in some vague way that he believed the 23 million people of Taiwan had the right to determine their own future, that Taiwanese are close family and China is distant family, that he subscribed to Tsai’s formula of respecting the ROC constitution, or something of that nature. Instead, he publicly wondered what Tsai meant by “Taiwan values.” This was not the answer Tsai and the DPP were looking for.

DPP legislator Yao Wen-chih 姚文智 wants to run for mayor, so he has been leading the calls for the DPP to nominate its own candidate. He has held several demonstrations, each one seemingly larger than the previous one. Notably, almost all of the DPP city council candidates have joined him. They have developed two powerful (and plausible) rationales for nominating their own candidate. First, city councilors fear that, because DPP loyalists are so disgusted with Ko’s China discourse, they will not come out to vote. They argue they need a strong mayoral candidate to drive up turnout so that they can also win their races. One might doubt this argument, but the DPP city council candidates have almost all voted with their feet. They have almost unanimously gone on record against Ko. Second, they have argued that Ko is going to run for the presidency in 2020, whether or not they cooperate with him in the mayoral race. According to this reasoning, it is better to split with him now rather than build him up even stronger. Amazingly, as this consensus within the DPP built and built over the past four months, Ko did almost nothing. It was as if he was oblivious to what was happening. A couple weeks ago, the DPP national party made one last effort, suggesting that internal polls showed that DPP supporters were split on whether to support Ko. However, while casual DPP supporters may still be amenable to Ko, the loyalists are not. Over the last few weeks, faction after faction has come out in favor of nominating their own candidate.

Ko did finally seem to awaken last week, he belatedly made an “apology” for his statement in China. However, he did not disavow the statement that both sides belong to one family. Rather, he said that he was sorry if anyone had been upset by his statement. You know, “Sorry, not sorry.” Then he made his excuse about just trying to successfully hold the University Games and claimed he had said things in the moment without really thinking about them. To me, it was a fairly pathetic show. Ko’s apology probably made people angrier. Moreover, he was suggesting he a) thought holding some stupid games were more important than cross-straits relations, and b) was basically incompetent at diplomacy. Also, he finally announced that he would support Tsai in her 2020 re-election bid for the presidency. This might have had some impact if he had said it in January, but now it is far too late. After several months of distancing himself from the DPP, his denial of presidential ambitions at the moment the DPP was making a final decision on whether to nominate its own mayoral candidate rang a bit hollow. It is certainly plausible to look at events and conclude that Ko was keeping his options open and might eventually turn on the DPP.


Aside: This whole process is a case study in President Tsai’s leadership style. Tsai believes strongly in consensus. She has her own preferences, but she does not generally try to impose them on the rest of the party. Instead, she prefers to slowly let a consensus build, and then she will lead the party in that consensus position. We have seen this on pensions and marriage equality, and now the same thing is playing out with the mayoral nomination. If Ko was counting on her to insist that the party yield, he hasn’t been paying much attention.


I’d like to think briefly about an article written by DPP city councilor Liang Wen-chieh 梁文傑. Liang argues that Ko won in 2014 because voters despised Lien’s actions as a comprador, but that Ko in office has followed exactly that path. As with all good political attacks, this takes events and stretches them a bit. I don’t think Ko’s feelers toward China constitute Lien-level comprador activities, but he was plausibly taking the first steps in that direction. The significance of this article isn’t so much that it is incisive analysis; rather, this is more important as a blueprint for how the DPP will attack Ko over then next few months (or years, if he runs for president). They will pain him as a political speculator ready to sell out Taiwan’s interests for the sake of his own political career. It looks like a pretty good line of attack to me.


I’ve consistently underestimated Ko Wen-je over the past five years. I may be doing so again, but this looks like the beginning of the end for him to me. I expect the DPP to start attacking him, and these attacks will take their toll on his popularity. Right now the DPP is in third place in the race, but if they can knock Ko down to third place, strategic voting will eviscerate him. Right now, my guess is that he will end up between 10% and 15%, far behind the KMT and DPP candidates.

I can still see a second act for Ko if he, in fact, does hold presidential ambitions. I’ve been saying almost since he was elected that there is a political vacuum waiting for him to step into. James Soong is old and ripe to be replaced. With the DPP now repudiating Ko, it is certainly plausible that he will slide over into that space in the political spectrum, perhaps taking over the PFP or perhaps leading a new force centered on current PFP supporters. If the KMT does not figure out how to revitalize itself, Ko could eventually displace the KMT as the main political force opposing the DPP. We are a long way from that happening, but it is a bit more plausible today than it was at the beginning of the year. If it does happen, we might look back on the One Family discourse as a foundational strategic move launching Ko into national politics rather than as a monumental blunder that cost him the mayorship.