I had a letter published in the Taipei Times today suggesting some reforms Taiwan could make to its electoral system. I have previously discussed the importance of referendums for Taiwan and the belligerence of the KMT in opposing them. I also wrote about reforming the voting system for the Legislative Yuan following the election in 2008.
Since democratization began in Taiwan in the early 1990s, there have been a number of reforms to the electoral system. One of the largest changes was the reform of the voting system for the Legislative Yuan that came into effect in 2008.
The 2008 legislative election, the first under the new system, resulted in the pan-blues having a super majority. The most recent conflict in the legislature has come about because the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) has used this majority to push the cross-strait Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) through the legislature without any substantial scrutiny.
A thorough review of the ECFA by the legislature may have done much to allay the fears of Taiwanese about the content of the agreement. However, after the rejection of petitions for a referendum on the ECFA, Taiwanese have further been denied the chance to submit the ECFA to the scrutiny it deserves.
While all the legislators were democratically elected by the Taiwanese public, those on the pan-blue side have failed to live up to the standards expected in a democracy. I would like to offer two suggestions on how Taiwan’s democratic system could be improved.
The first is reform of the electoral system. The change I suggest is a relatively simple one that wouldn’t change electoral boundaries or the number of legislators. Taiwan should adopt preferential voting to replace the current single non-transferable vote (SNTV) or “first past the post” system.
In Australia preferential voting is the norm. It has helped promote the development of minor parties, which have played an important moderating role in the political system.
Preferential voting allows voters to vote for the party of their choice without fear that their vote will be wasted. Tactical voting under the SNTV systems means people are often forced to vote for a party they don’t actually support because their preferred party has no chance of being elected.
Preferential voting gives minor parties more opportunities to participate in the democratic process. It would encourage more negotiation and consensus building between parties. A greater plurality of voices would help prevent any single party from establishing a hegemony.
My second suggestion is to reform the Referendum Act (公投法). The most important change is to remove the unreasonably high threshold of votes for the result to be valid. This encourages non-voting or boycotting tactics.
While the pan-blue dominated legislature may be unwilling to make these changes, people can take this matter upon themselves and use the referendum process itself to reform the Referendum Act. The opposition parties and civil society groups should work together to hold a referendum on removing the current “birdcage” provisions of the law.
An effective system of citizen-initiated referendums would provide a last line of democratic defense against abuse of power by the legislative or executive branches of government. It would put decision making in the hands of the people, rather than the current system which gives the people limited power to challenge decisions made by the government.
Taiwan must continue to strive to improve its practice of democracy. These suggested reforms would return more power to the voters and add checks and balances that are currently lacking.