Recall of Chen Po-wei (Taichung 2)

Chen Po-wei 陳柏惟 (Taiwan Statebuilding Party, TSP) was recalled from his seat in Taichung 2nd district yesterday. I haven’t paid a lot of attention to each cut and thrust of this recall, so I can’t comment a lot on the strategic decisions of the pro- and anti-recall efforts. However, I will say that this incident has neatly displayed many of the flaws in the recall law. I have argued that the current recall law invites big parties to bully small parties, makes it easier to recall someone than to elect them in the first place, and encourages losers to continually try to overturn election results, even without a major change in public opinion. Check, check, and check. The fact that Chen will lose his seat is a clear indication that the electoral law must be reformed to make recalls much more difficult.

The recall law currently requires that the yes side exceed 25% of eligible voters and that yes notes must outnumber no votes. Taichung 2 has 294,976 eligible voters, so the yes side needed at least 73,744 votes.

  Valid %Eligible %
Yes (recall)77,89951.526.4
No (don’t recall)73,43348.524.9

It was a very close result by both standards. The yes side beat the no side by fewer than 5,000 votes, and they only exceeded the 25% threshold by 1.4%.

This is not much different from the results of the general election. In January 2020, Chen won a very close race against KMT incumbent Yan Kuan-heng. Yen played a leading role in this recall election, and he is expected to try to regain his seat in the coming by-election. I don’t think it is much of a stretch at all to suggest this recall was an attempt to overturn the 2020 election result.

  Valid %Win
Yen (KMT)107,76648.9 
Chen (TSP)112,83951.1*

I believe that recalls should be reserved for extraordinary cases in which an incumbent clearly loses large amounts of previous support. Going from 51-49% to 48-51% doesn’t strike me as a massive shift in public opinion. This is more like the kind of shift that you get several times a month on one direction or the other depending on the headlines of the day. Relitigating elections every time there is a 3% shift is a recipe for chaos.

It isn’t obvious why this is a stronger indication of a public mandate than the previous result. Why should 77,899 votes be more powerful than the 112,839 votes that were cast to elect Chen? This may have been more of a mobilization victory than a change in public opinion. Yen may simply have mobilized 73.3% of his previous support, while Chen could only mobilize 65.1% of his. It wouldn’t be surprising if Yen had (as pretty much everyone believes) a significant advantage in grassroots organization that allowed him to mobilize more of his supporters at any odd time in the middle of the election cycle. However, let’s keep in mind that over a fourth of the people who voted against Chen the first time neglected to vote against him this time. We certainly don’t have any reason to believe that many people who voted for Chen in 2020 changed their minds and voted against him this time.

I know that some will object that Chen and his supporters should have mobilized more to defend his seat. However, I believe that the burden of proof should be on the side trying to overturn the previous result, not on the incumbent. At any rate, Chen demonstrated that he maintains most of his previous support. The recall side did not demonstrate any massive change in public opinion.

A successful recall should provide a clear repudiation of a previous electoral result. This recall failed to do that. It was much easier to defeat Chen Po-wei in a recall than in the general election. That is an institutional failure.

One Response to “Recall of Chen Po-wei (Taichung 2)”

  1. kaizoe Says:

    I think the whole recall instrument should not exist at all. But the green camp lowered the bar to use it when it was opportune for them and now they are whining about it when it beats one of their own. Ridiculous.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: