Politics & Law
Taiwan's 2024 legislative election outlook
Unless the pan-Blue camp finds a way to unite behind a single candidate, the DPP is the odds-on favourite to win the 2024 presidential election but the outlook for the legislative elections is less clear
By Brian Hioe
With less than one hundred days left until the elections, there has been comparatively more focus on the presidential election. This election cycle, however, is unlikely to be as heated as previous cycles.
With the pan-Blue camp split between Hou You-yi of the Kuomintang (KMT), Ko Wen-je of the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP), and Foxconn founder Terry Gou, it is thought that this significantly raises the odds that Lai Ching-te of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) will be the winner. That being said, there is now talk among the pan-Blue camp of cooperation, with Ko Wen-je having proposed primaries between opposition candidates in order to determine the strongest candidate.
Negotiations between the respective political camps have not yet resulted in the TPP and KMT deciding to hold joint primaries, with differences in opinion about the format of the primary being the major stumbling block. Either way, time is running out to negotiate on the matter before candidate choices must be finalized (at the end of November). As it was originally Ko who proposed the notion of pan-Blue cooperation, it is possible that the idea was only thrown out by Ko to appear as though he were willing to cooperate with the KMT, when in reality he had no intention of doing so.
This sets the tone for the legislative elections, then. Although the TPP and KMT did agree at a meeting held last weekend to cooperate to maximize their gains in the legislature, this may not prevent in-fighting if candidates of each side still see each other as competition and are unwilling to back out of contested races even if a split vote may mean a DPP victory. Still, the DPP faces a number of challenges.
Firstly, there has been much chatter of the DPP potentially facing punishment from voters over its failure to remedy structural issues in Taiwanese society, such as regarding the declining birthrate and rising elderly population, as well as how the benefits of economic growth have not trickled down to the population at large. The DPP has also come under fire for the slow pace of construction for social housing, a promise of the Tsai administration in past election cycles. In turn, the Tsai administration has sought to tout its pension reform measures and how it has increased the minimum wage.
Consequently, some in the pan-Green camp believe that the DPP will not be able to hold onto the majority in the legislature during the next election, even if it is anticipated that the DPP may still control the presidency. This could result in a scenario similar to the Chen Shui-bian presidency, when the DPP also did not hold the majority - the 2016 election that swept Tsai Ing-wen to power was the first time in Taiwanese history that the DPP captured control of both the presidency and the legislature.
Chen Shui-bien’s lack of control of the legislature did not prevent his administration from enacting measures through executive power, such as changing the names of a number of state institutions. The Tsai administration itself was on several points willing to rely on executive power to push through measures based on new regulations rolled out from the Executive Yuan, such as lifting the ban on transnational gay marriage through means other than legislative or judicial interpretation. If it shrugs off legislative pressure from the KMT because it no longer holds the majority in the Legislative Yuan, it is still possible for the DPP to push through with its agendas.
Nevertheless, the DPP is not likely to face challenges as steep as during the Chen administration either, when the KMT was a far more viable political force. For one, the pan-Blue camp is split, as reflected in the presidential election. Upper-level elections often set the tone for lower-level elections, with higher-level candidates acting as so-called “hens” who steer, guide, and boost the campaigns of other candidates. Hence the hen metaphor, acting protectively as a mother hen might for her chicks. The split in the presidential election will affect legislative elections.
Furthermore, the relative successes of the Tsai administration will serve as an asset to the DPP in campaigning. Certainly, Tsai is not leaving office with any measure of comparable scandal to Chen Shui-bian at the end of his term.
Indeed, as the TPP and KMT are still unlikely to cooperate in a concerted manner when it comes to legislative races, continued splits in the pan-Blue camp in the presidential race will ultimately also impact its performance in legislative races, with the TPP fielding its own candidates in over half of the legislative districts where elections will take place. While independent Terry Gou has not formed a party, his political grouping of the “Major League” has succeeded in prying off some pan-Blue politicians from the KMT, and this will also contribute to splits. And so split votes in the pan-Blue camp could contribute to the odds of DPP victories, then.
If the pan-Blue camp manages to hold a slim majority in the legislature, the TPP and KMT will likely begin to in-fight, with the TPP facing pressures to distinguish its political programme from that of the KMT. This proves a similar challenge to that faced by the New Power Party (NPP) after its successes in the 2016 elections, in which the NPP struggled to differentiate itself from the DPP.
In the legislative races, the DPP is likely to focus fire on pan-Blue legislators who have become embroiled in scandals, such as KMT legislator Ma Wen-chun, who was accused of leaking information about Taiwan’s domestically-developed submarine programme to other countries. Hualien legislator Fu Kun-chi is another prominent target, given his long-standing reputation as one of the most corrupt KMT politicians – even if the party is reluctant to part ways with him politically because of his ability to win elections and his strong local influence.
By contrast, the DPP has acted quickly to prune its own slate of candidates when they have encountered scandal, or to prevent scandal from spreading to other candidates. This can be seen in former deputy secretary-general Lin Fei-fan withdrawing as a legislative candidate in order to stem off scandal from a wave of #MeToo cases that affected the DPP, though Lin was not personally responsible for any incidents of sexual harassment or assault.
Otherwise, the DPP is running a slate of candidates that draws from post-Sunflower Movement activists who have sought office in past years but been unsuccessful, such as Wu Cheng. There have been some splits in the pan-Green camp as well, however, with Wu Hsin-tai of the Taiwan Statebuilding Party challenging Kao Chia-yu of the DPP in Neihu-Nangang, and Yu Mei-ren challenging former Sunflower activist Wu Pei-yi of the DPP, who is a current city councillor, in Zhongzheng-Wanhua.
Although the NPP was previously the strongest pan-Green third party, its presence has withered, with a number of former members such as Huang Jie in Kaohsiung, Sabrina Lim in Taipei, and Liao Yu-hsien in Yunlin joining the DPP. While Freddy Lim is the most prominent of the former NPP members who departed the party over its refusal to back Tsai Ing-wen in the 2020 presidential election, he will not be running for re-election after nearly being recalled in 2022 but has been campaigning for Wu Pei-yi. Consequently, the pan-Green vote is not likely to be as split compared to previous election cycles.
The die is cast for the 2024 legislative elections then. Even if the outcome of the presidential race seems relatively clear, the outlook for legislative elections is far more opaque. But the same trends that affect the presidential race will also impact the legislative elections.
Brian Hioe is a Taiwanese American writer, translator, and the founding editor of New Bloom