The Economist Intelligencer has a pretty good piece out on the upcoming legislative elections that manages to cover all the bases, and properly too….

A more prosaic, but equally important, cause of the government’s problems is that the KMT and its allies have a small majority in the Legislative Yuan (parliament). They have used this majority repeatedly to obstruct the economic initiatives of the government, which in turn has enabled them to accuse Mr Chen of neglecting Taiwan’s economy. (Mr Chen’s frequent focus on controversial issues related to Taiwan’s sovereignty and national identity has made him an easier target in this respect.)

How often do you see a forthright depiction of the actual problems the government faces in carrying out its program? Good work. The Economist also explains how the changes in the legislature work:

Next weekend’s general election will involve a number of important changes in Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan and the manner in which it is constituted. The number of seats will be reduced from 225 to 113. In addition, legislators’ terms will be extended from three years to four, and one-half of the 34 seats allotted to the parties based on their share of the political-party vote will be held by female legislators. Redistricting, based chiefly on population, has also changed the political landscape, and for the first time legislators will be elected from single-member districts (73 seats, representing 73 districts). Voters will cast two votes, one for a district candidate and one for a political party—the latter determining the allocation of the 34 seats based on party performance. The remaining six seats will be allocated to aboriginal people.

These reforms promise to bring about a welcome maturing of Taiwan’s democratic system. Lengthening the term of the Legislative Yuan will, for example, reduce the number of elections. This is an important change in a system where the frequency of major elections has exacerbated the partisan nature of politics. In theory, reducing the number of legislators and lengthening their terms could make the Legislative Yuan less fractious (fewer loud, angry voices) and more stable, reducing disruptions to policymaking. Perhaps most importantly, the new system will synchronise the parliamentary and presidential election cycles, ensuring that the interruption of campaigning into daily politics occurs only once every four years.

The new voting system may remove another cause of Taiwan’s ill-tempered politics. Under the old system, some constituencies elected as many as 12 legislators, making it important for politicians to differentiate themselves not just from opponents in different political parties, but even from supposed allies in their own. In this way the old system encouraged politicians to campaign on personalities rather than policies, and undermined intra-party unity. In a more general sense, the system was widely perceived to have fostered vote-buying and corruption, as well as the participation of organised crime in politics in Taiwan.

Is the new format reducing vote buying? The papers here report more than 6,000 cases already under investigation by the government graft units, although some of those involve the same persons more than once. Because of the advantages that accrue to incumbents, this election is vitally important. Those elected legislators will have several years to continue expanding their patronage networks as the only representative from their district, meaning that it will be them or nobody handing out favors. This will magnify the advantages of incumbency and thus, the importance of this election — meaning that vote buying will be all the more important.

The IHT has a piece on the 200,000 Chinese spouses in Taiwan who cannot vote, due to suspicions about their pro-China views. And because it has nothing to do with elections, let’s give a big hand to the Taiwan embroidery expert, one of the world’s top five, who has been contracted to fix the 200 year old American flag that inspired our national anthem.