Last minute party vote scramble casts shadow

By Yuan-Ming Chiao, The China Post

TAIPEI, Taiwan — As Taiwan enters into the last few days before national elections, the 73-centimeter-long party ballot and how voters will choose among the 18 political parties is quickly overshadowing the lackluster presidential race. For months, the DPP, which has seen its fortunes rise at the same time as the implosion of a faction-ridden KMT, seemed to be courting small parties as future junior partners. Like a shark joined by a fleet of smaller piranhas, they circled the crippled ruling party, ready to make the final pounce for power. The DPP combined lip-service with concrete action, avoided the nomination of its own party members from 11 electoral districts and nurtured candidates from the New Power Party and the Social Democrat and Green Party Alliance.

Now all of that seems to be biting the DPP back in the election end game. Once cautiously optimistic about securing the coveted legislative majority, the party ballot, which was once hailed as the instrument of growing fledgling small parties friendly to the DPP, is now viewed as a threat. DPP vice-presidential candidate Chen Chien-jen bluntly instructed supporters in Pintung last Sunday, “not to vote for small parties” and to cast the party ballot in favor of his party instead. Press conferences held in the last few days have buttressed the message of concentrating support for the mother party, drawing a backlash from the perceived smaller allies. Symptoms of

Substantive Problems Once seen as competing over the same prey (the ailing KMT governing structure), the shark and the piranhas are circling each other in the tug-of-war for the party ballot. What does this all mean? At the outset, it represents the complex balance of power between political forces in the wake of, and in the aftermath of the election: the DPP, originally projected to take at least 16 legislator-at-large seats from the party ballot is being revised downward to 12. The most vocal DPP lawmakers on “vote concentration” are the very ones that may not make the final cut.

But the more fundamental problem faced by a party that is brandishing its credentials as mainstream is its relationship with civil society and why smaller parties have risen in the first place. Smaller parties may be symptomatic of growing environmental, labor, land appropriation and other social concerns increasingly spurned by larger parties who align with different interest groups. A call for constituents to vote in favor of the larger party not only backpedals in Taiwan’s bold democratic experiment, it sets the stage for future wrangling, and the potential for new “sunflowers” to rise from the soil of political and social discontent. A Difficult Harvest for Democracy? Should the DPP galvanize its camp and use the arguments of pragmatism to wrestle potential votes to the emerging parties of the post-Sunflower in the end, it temporary forestalls societal problems without confronting them. It, along with perhaps the rump of the KMT, may alter its existing structure to accommodate those issue areas by absorption. But very soon after Jan. 16, the formation of “societal consensus” often referred to by Tsai Ing-wen as a means of tackling social issues may be increasingly harder to locate, and much less to define.