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Taiwan Votes to Cut Legislature in Half Ahead of Presidential Elections

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Andrew Ryan

Taiwan's legislature is about to be cut in half. People across the island are voting for the first time since the structure of the legislature was revamped. The elections are also seen as a possible preview of the presidential contest in March. Andrew Ryan has more from Taipei.

Election trucks on the streets of Taiwan on the last day of campaigning. Broadcasting support for candidates, they gave the island a carnival-like atmosphere in the run-up to the elections. The process will dramatically alter the legislature, cutting the number of seats from 225 to 115.

In the past, voters chose among several legislators for each district, and more than one would take office. But the new elections will see only one representative elected in each district. National Taiwan University Professor Philip Yang says the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) could benefit from the new system.

"The KMT is known traditionally as a party that has a very active grassroots organization in the local society that the KMT can mobilize," said Yang. "And this will help a new system like the one we're going to test on Saturday. So, the KMT also benefits from this."

The KMT holds a slight majority in the legislature going into the elections, and is hoping to boost its control to two thirds.

The ruling Democratic Progressive Party, DPP, is short of a majority, but hopes to win 45 to 50 percent of the seats.

Analysts say the elections can be seen as a referendum on the government's policies on China and the economy.

Professor Yang says the KMT hopes to benefit partly from dissatisfaction with President Chen Shui-bian and his DPP-led government.

"This election will be viewed as a vote of confidence, and actually more than half - or let's say more than 60 percent of the current population, according to those opinion polls, disagrees with the government's performance," said Yang.

The KMT says President Chen's moves toward greater independence from China has hindered cross-strait trade and hurt the economy.

The DPP says overinvestment in China and the loss of jobs to the mainland are to blame for Taiwan's economic problems.

Analysts say a big win in the legislative elections could carry over to the presidential vote.

While early predictions look good for the KMT, there is concern in both camps that voters are lukewarm about the elections, and that voter turnout could be low.

 

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