Archive for the ‘2004 presidential’ Category

evolution of the political map and money politics

November 25, 2014

In the last week before the election, all signs point to a good election night for the DPP. This should be their best local election since the 1997 landslide. Since that particular election is burned vividly into my memory, I thought I’d go back and look at a couple of things that have changed since then. In particular, I want to discuss (1) geography and how the political map has changed (2) the way that money politics is different today than a generation ago.


In 1997, the DPP’s victory was almost unbelievable in geographic scope. Taipei and Kaohsiung Cities were not up for election, but all the other cities and counties were. The DPP won nearly every major race. In the south, the DPP held power in Kaoshiung County and Tainan County, they took back power in Pingtung, won a messy four-way race in Tainan City, and their ally, Chang Po-ya 張博雅(now the head of the Control Yuan) won a fifth consecutive term for the Hsu family dynasty in Chiayi City. In the north, the DPP easily retained power in Yilan County, won a tough three-way race in Hsinchu County, somehow held Taoyuan County (where Annette Lu 呂秀蓮 had won the office in a by-election a year earlier), won an outright majority in Hsinchu City, and narrowly edged out the KMT in the biggest prize, Taipei County. The DPP even won in Taichung City and County. They didn’t win in Nantou, but former DPP legislator Peng Pai-hsien 彭百顯 edged out both the DPP and KMT nominees to take that race. It could have been even worse for the KMT. They barely squeezed out victories in Changhua and Yunlin, the two biggest districts they held onto. In terms of numbers of cities and counties that each party won, it didn’t look so bad since the KMT won all the little districts. However, the DPP ended up governing about 80% of Taiwan’s population.

Today, that looks a little strange. The KMT’s last redoubt was in Changhua, Yunlin, and Chiayi County. Today, Yunlin and Chiayi usually can be counted on to vote for the DPP, and Changhua is far from a reliable area for either party. Today it would be nearly unthinkable for the DPP to sweep Taoyuan, Hsinchu County, and Hsinchu City. It seemed far less impossible then. The DPP had held the Hsinchu County government since 1989, and it had been very strong in several elections in Hsinchu City during the 1980s.

Many of us don’t realize (or can easily forget) just how much the political map has changed. In the 1990s, we didn’t talk so much about the blue north and green south. Rather, the DPP had strength in the north and south, but central Taiwan was often thought of as a “democratic desert.” Perhaps the best way to see the changes is to look at the DPP’s vote in national elections over the years.

  national north mid-north central mid-south south E/F
1994 39.4 41.7 33.8 36.3 43.8 40.6 26.3
2000 39.3 37.4 30.0 37.4 49.5 46.2 20.5
2004 50.1 45.9 42.5 50.5 59.6 57.0 29.1
2008 41.6 38.4 32.9 40.5 51.0 49.7 21.8
2012 45.6 42.2 37.4 44.9 57.0 53.6 25.1
(12-94) 6.2 0.5 3.6 8.6 13.2 13.0 -1.2

North: Taipei City and County, Keelung City, Yilan County

Mid-north: Taoyuan County, Hsinchu City and County, Miaoli County

Central: Taichung City and County, Changhua County, Nantou County

Mid-south: Yunlin County, Chiayi City and County, Tainan City and County

South: Kaohsiung City and County, Pingtung County, Penghu County

East/Fujian: Taitung, Hualien, Kinmen, Lienchiang (1994: Taitung, Hualien only)


Ignore the East/Fujian category; it is much smaller than the other five regions. It is also geographically incoherent.

In 1994, look at how close the other five regions were to each other. From the weakest to the strongest, the difference was only 10%. Moreover, the north was actually a better region for the DPP than the south. Today that is unthinkable. By 2012, the difference between the weakest and strongest regions had grown to 20%, and the south was about 8% better than the north.

Now look at the difference between 1994 and 2012 for each region. The north has barely changed (+0.5%), the mid-north has slightly increased, the center somewhat more, and the mid-south and south have both increased by a whopping 13%. The DPP’s gains over the past generation have come almost entirely in the southern half of the island.

This is what we mean when we talk about the south turning green and the north turning blue. In an absolute sense, the north hasn’t really gotten bluer. However, relative to the national average, the north and mid-north look far bluer than they did a generation ago. The southern half of the island is, of course, much greener. The central region, rather than being a “democratic desert” halfway between DPP bastions in the north and south, has become the bellwether area. As goes the center, so goes Taiwan.


You will notice that the mid-south has always been the DPP’s best area in national elections. However, it has not always been the DPP’s best area in local elections. In 1997, when the DPP won nearly everything else, it could not win Yunlin or Chiayi Counties. Somehow the KMT managed to maintain control of local politics in what objectively should have been the DPP’s best area. In the past 20 years, however, the KMT has completely lost this control. This gets me to my second big change in the past generation: money.

Money is emerging as a defining issue in current politics, but it runs on a very different logic today than a generation ago. Now we are increasingly aware of the power of large, multinational conglomerates that have extended their reach through every facet of Taiwan’s society. The old picture of an economy dominated by small and medium businesses (with a lot of family businesses) and a large middle class seems less and less accurate as a description of today’s Taiwan. Moreover, almost all businesses have established extensive ties with China. They either do their manufacturing in China, or they want to access China’s enormous domestic market. Because of these ties, economic inequality is increasingly bound together with identity politics.

A generation ago, businesses were just starting the move to China, and China itself was far poorer, less powerful, and had a much less aggressive foreign policy. The KMT, headed by Lee Teng-hui, was encouraging a Go-Slow policy for businesses toward China. The USA was still by far Taiwan’s most important market and trading partner.

Nevertheless, money in politics was one of the defining issues in the 1997 election. More specifically, the election was all about what voters called black and gold politics. Black referred to organized crime, and during the 1990s organized crime increasingly penetrated local politics. Following the spectacular police crackdowns on organized crime in the late CCK era, crime figures started to run for elected office as a way of gaining legal protection. If a crime boss was in the county assembly and could threaten to cut the local county police budget, the police learned quickly to back off. Minor crime figures ran for township councils, more important ones ran for county assemblies, and the biggest ones ran for the legislature. The ever-increasing presence of organized crime in elected offices led to more and more violence in local politics, larger and more ostentatious brothels and gambling parlors (you couldn’t miss the garish neon lights), and more petty and violent crime.

Local KMT factions had always used local government budgets to feed their electoral machines, and this continued in the 1990s. If you needed to build a road or a school, your friendly local contractor would inflate the budget, skimp on materials, and kick back 10% to the politicians. This could then be recycled back into politics. Candidates amassed huge war chests to buy votes at ever-increasing prices. Organized crime turned out to be very good at vote-buying. On the one hand, they had lots of tough young men who could either buy votes or scare off the vote buyers for rival candidates. On the other hand, they could remind voters who took the money that their ballot box had better have a lot of votes for the right candidate or else…

Anger against black and gold politics came to a climax in the summer of 1997 when actress Bai Bing-bing’s 白冰冰 daughter was kidnapped by a gang. The whole country watched on TV as the police incompetently tried to raid their hideout completely unaware that the gang was listening in on the police radio. When the gang killed Bai’s daughter, the nation was outraged. There was a massive protest in Taipei calling only for President Lee to apologize and Premier Lien to resign. A week before the election, the case flared up again when the last gang member stormed the South African embassy and held the Ambassador and his family hostage. Frank Hsieh 謝長廷 emerged the hero by going in to negotiate the gang member’s surrender and coming out with the Ambassador’s baby. When people went to vote the next weekend, black and gold issues were at the front of their considerations.

Today, even in local politics, money operates in different ways. On the one hand, if you try to play the traditional game of recycling money through local construction projects, it doesn’t work as well. On the one hand, prosecutors have much better tools for sniffing out corruption and more leeway to pursue those cases in court. On the other hand, the presence of organized crime has diminished considerably. There is much less (visible) prostitution and gambling. Vote buying doesn’t work as well as it used to. Perhaps most importantly, administrative reform in 2010 eliminated local township governments in Taipei, Taichung, Tainan, and Kaohsiung Counties, removing a vital source of cash in many of the most prosperous areas of Taiwan.

Of course, building stuff in the old ways is still attractive, but the future might be in the John Wu 吳志揚 Taoyuan model. As Michael Cole has repeatedly reminded us over the past few years, the Taoyuan government is pursuing an enormous development plan around the airport. However, rather than handing off contracts to lots of small time local cronies, Wu has invited big Chinese investors to come in and fund the project. It is hard to know exactly how the money is then recycled, but it doesn’t take much imagination to speculate that these Chinese investors repay the favor with political influence for Wu’s (or allies’) business dealings in China.

This may be simplifying things too much, but it seems to me that the old factional politics that used to be the basis of KMT local power in central and southern Taiwan have simply become much less lucrative. As the money slowed down to a trickle, faction politics were squeezed out by party politics. Since the DPP had always had quite a bit of sympathy bubbling under the surface in the south, once the factions weakened, it was nearly impossible for the KMT to maintain its partisan hold on those local governments. What was left of the factions switched sides and transferred their remaining support to the DPP. In the center where the two parties are much more evenly balanced, the factions have not yet made the same move en masse, but a few people have switched sides. In the north, the DPP had much less support and the factions have not been tempted to change sides. Now in Taoyuan, Wu may have figured out how to marry the traditional construction development state model with the new integration into the Chinese market. This new source of money might allow him and the KMT to maintain and reinforce their coalition of ideological supporters (of whom Taoyuan has always had many) and the watermelon faction who go wherever their economic interests point them.


Gerrymandering in Taiwan?

February 19, 2010

So we all know that the 2008 Legislative Yuan elections were a bloodbath for the DPP.  With the new MMM system and the overall 55-40 advantage for the blue camp over the green camp, the DPP ended up with only 27 of 113 (24%) seats.  Most of us assumed that the DPP made a huge mistake in agreeing to the new system.

In fact, it goes further.  Aborigines’ seats typically all go to blue camp.  In fact, in all the different sorts of national elections (legislative, national assembly, provincial assembly), the DPP has only won one seat.  (Chen Ying 陳瑩 won a legislative seat in 2004.  Her father was an old KMT politician, and she relied heavily on his networks.  Her election did not signify a new partisan regime.)  Depending on how and who you county, aborigines make up 1.5-2.0% or so of the total population.  Since they are acknowledged as a disadvantaged group with a special place in Taiwan, they have always been overrepresented in the legislature.  In the 1998-2008 legislature, aborigines had 8 of 225 (3.6%).  Now they have 6 of 113 (5.3%).  I don’t know why the DPP agreed to this.

According to the rules, each county gets at least one seat.  The four smallest counties, Taidong, Penghu, Jinmen, and Lianjiang, had 262,016 eligible voters in 2008, or 1.6% of the total SMD electorate.  In the previous legislature, they had 4 of the 168 SNTV seats (ie, 225 total minus the 8 aborigines’ seats and the 49 party list seats).  Now they have 4 of the 73 SMD seats.  That’s an increase from 2.4% to 5.5%.  In case you’re wondering, these four seats have always been solid blue.  (Well, until last month’s shocking by-election in Taidong, that is.  But more on that later.)

So according to the rules, roughly 3% of the population that is reliably blue elects 11% of the seats in the new system, up from about 6% in the old system.  That sounds like a solid case of malapportionment to me.[1] It also sounds like a significant systemic advantage for the KMT.  If the DPP wants to govern, it should need to get quite a bit more than 50% to overcome this malapportionment.

Just for fun, I took the 2008 presidential vote and cut it into the 73 SMD districts.  Since the KMT won 58-42, not much different from the blue camp’s victory in the party list (55-40), I didn’t expect a much different outcome.  In fact, it’s basically the same.  The DPP actually won 13 seats in 2008, but the green camp led the blue camp in the party list tier in 15 districts.  For the presidential election, the green camp led in 16 districts.

What about the 2004 vote?  If we wanted to know what a DPP majority would look like, this is the best we’ve got.  Recall that the DPP won the 2004 election by a whopping 50.11-49.89%.  In other words, it was basically tied.  If we assume that on such a 50-50 vote, the KMT and DPP would each get 17 list seats, and we further assume that the KMT would sweep the six aboriginal seats, the DPP would need to win the 73 districts by a 40-33 margin.  This seems unlikely, given a 50-50 vote, but that’s exactly what you get.  Chen’s vote was higher than Lian’s vote in 40 of the 73 districts.  In other words, this little exercise produces a one seat DPP advantage, 57-56.

I was absolutely shocked by this result.  Somehow a system that looks skewed in favor of the KMT is actually quite fair.  A 50-50 election produces a 50-50 legislature.  There must be something offsetting the malapportionment.

In my previous post, I pointed to 16 districts that were very close to the overall national average in the 2008 party list vote.  Chen won almost all of these districts (by very small margins).  Ten of the twelve districts in Taichung and Changhua (in Central Taiwan) are among these 16 bellwether districts, and Chen swept them all.  In other words, the DPP has an advantage in that a large group of districts tip its way slightly before the party gets to 50% overall.  This is what offsets the malapportionment.

I had never done this exercise before, but I’m sure that both the KMT and DPP did it before agreeing to the new system.  No one wonders why the KMT agreed.  They expected to benefit from it because they didn’t expect the DPP would ever get to 50% again.  In 2008 at least, they were clearly right.  The question is why the DPP agreed, and now we have another piece of the answer.  If they can get to 50% they can win power.  This system is not as skewed as it looks.

Oh, before we conclude, let’s revisit that malapportionment.  Now that the DPP has won Taidong (albeit in highly favorable conditions unlikely to hold in the future), we probably have to stop thinking of that seat as an automatic KMT victory.  Penghu also deserves a second look.  While the DPP hasn’t won anything there since 1993 and blue incumbent seems quite well-entrenched, this is not an unwinnable district for the green camp.  According to the 2008 party list vote, this is a 52-40 district.  Last December, the DPP candidate for county executive only lost by 600 votes, or about 1%.  So really there are only 8 overrepresented seats that the KMT seems sure to win, not 10.  Even the malapportionment isn’t as severe as it appears at first glance.

[1] If you’re really a nerd and need to know these things, I figured the Samuels-Snyder Malapportionment Index to be .0704, which makes the Taiwanese legislature a moderate, though not a severe, case of malapportionment.