Taiwan election, 2012: KMT re-elected, and unusual alliance behavior

In elections Saturday, the Taiwanese president, Ma Ying-jeou of the Kuomintang (KMT), was reelected with 51.8% of the vote. Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) came second with 45.6%, and James Soong of the People First Party won 2.8%.

The election is by plurality, so it was not especially close.

These were the first concurrent elections in Taiwan, the electoral cycle having been modified recently. As is to be expected with concurrent elections, the presidential and legislative votes were quite similar. The KMT-led alliance won 51.5% of the legislative votes, and will continue to control a majority of seats, with 67 of 113. (This is a decline from 85 at the previous, non-concurrent, election of 2008.)

These elections feature an unusual example of two parties competing in presidential elections but allied in concurrent legislative elections. Soong’s People First Party is part of the Pan Blue alliance, and whereas Sung himself managed only 2.8% of the vote, his party contributed 5.5% of the Pan Blue legislative vote.

Taiwan’s electoral system is mixed-member majoritarian (or parallel), with 79 district races decided by plurality, and 34 nationwide seats elected by proportional representation. People First won one single-seat contest, and 2 list seats. I assume the parties in alliance run common candidacies in the single-seat districts (and hence that the KMT stood down in the one contest won by the PFP, and the PFP did not contest many other districts), but that they run separate party lists. I hope someone can confirm that.

The only other case I know of where two parties competed in a presidential election but were allied in a concurrent legislative election would be Chile, 2005. At the time of the Chilean example of this sort of unusual alliance behavior, I remarked that the electoral rules of Chile made it advantageous for the parties to remain in their legislative alliance even after they chose to compete in the presidential race. In Chile, these rules are two-seat D’Hondt open lists. Taiwan’s MMM provides similar, if distinct, incentives to cooperate.

What is more surprising about the Taiwanese case is that by running separate presidential candidates, the alliance risked splitting the vote, given the use of plurality rule. In Chile, on the other hand, the presidency is elected through majority runoff. That Soong’s vote for president, where a split of the alliance vote was risky, was so much lower than his party’s legislative votes can be scored as a victory for Duverger.

Taiwan to adopt concurrent elections

By decision of the electoral commission, Taiwan will move to concurrent elections for president and legislature. Robert Elgie has some details, and concludes by noting:

The other semi-presidential democracies with scheduled concurrent elections are Mozambique, Namibia and Peru. The last concurrent elections in Romania were in 2004.

Taiwan’s move makes sense, as did Romania’s–in the other direction–before it.

With the Taiwanese move, the remaining cases of concurrent elections are of the president-parliamentary subtype of semi-presidential democracy. Romania, on the other hand, is premier-presidential. ((Definitions: A semi-presidential system has a popularly elected president alongside a premier (prime minister) who is responsible to the legislative majority. Under premier-presidentialism, that responsibility is exclusive: the president is not granted constitutional authority to dismiss a premier or cabinet. Under the president-parliamentary subtype, the president has constitutional authority to dismiss a premier, who thus (along with the rest of the cabinet) must maintain the confidence of both the elected president and the majority of the legislature.))

I would argue that the more the formal rules of a semi-presidential system lean towards presidentialism, as in Taiwan, the less it makes sense to have nonconcurrent elections, which increase the odds of an opposition-dominated legislature. For premier-presidentialism, on the other hand, it is logical to increase the (potential for) independence of the premier by making legislative elections separate temporally from presidential.

It appears that constitutional reformers agree–at least those who have recently reformed the electoral cycles in Romania and Taiwan!