Analysis of the election continues apace, with more from the Blogosphere, this time from the Only Redhead. I’m tired of arguing with people that I know and love, like Robert, but the fact is that lots and lots of commentators out there fondly imagine that if the DPP had only come up with the right message, it wouldn’t have been so bad. But here on Taiwan, at the local level, messages don’t matter, it’s all about voter mobilization and patron-client networks. The KMT excels at those, and the DPP has not come up with local level tactics to counter them (cash is the sine qua non). The real eff-up, in any case, did not take place in this election, but in 2004, when the DPP blew its one and only chance to gain control of the legislature and rig the system in its favor — not because it had a lousy message, but because of (what else?) faulty tactics.

The best analysis out there in the Land of Conventional Wisdom is probably that of Jacques deLisle at UPenn. deLisle reports, but does not subscribe to, the CW that the election was a repudiation of Chen Shui-bian, but instead correctly notes the KMT spending advantage and the LDP-type system it is implementing at the local level:

The DPP also suffers from a resource deficit, although this has been closing. The KMT’s once-formidable fortune has withered, and reports indicate that the KMT liquidated assets for the 2008 campaign on a scale that will be hard to replicate. Still, the wealth gap has been significant and, as the party in control of both branches, the KMT would have new fund-raising advantages over a DPP which had lost the presidency and much of its share of parliament.


Still, the 2008 legislative elections, predictions for the presidential election, and longer term patterns and trends in Taiwan’s electoral politics suggest that Taiwan may head for a single-party-dominant system rather than the two-party-dominant system toward which it had seemed to be moving. Taiwan’s democracy then would look more like Japan’s under Liberal Democratic Party hegemony and less like the U.S.’s or Britain’s. That would be a regrettable outcome from a perspective that values democracy in the form of competition among candidates representing a range of views (including those reflecting much of the range of policy preferences and interests in society) who have meaningful chances of victory in contests for offices wielding real power. It would be a particularly problematic outcome for democracy in Taiwan, given the risk that a one-party-dominant system could durably exclude from meaningful influence the large minority of Taiwan voters with clearly “Green” preferences.

For some reason many of the Green-supporting bloggers have decided the DPP lost because it ran a bad election campaign — alluring logic, but fundamentally wrong. The KMT won, because it vastly outspent the DPP (on the assumption that it can recoup those losses), because it gerrymandered the districts, and because it has the local level systems in place. If the DPP wants to dominate at the local level, it will need to either replicate those KMT advantages or else come up with an analogue. There is, at the moment, no message that the DPP could come out with that could overcome that concrete KMT advantage of disciplined, well-oiled, tightly linked local networks that the KMT has nourished for the last 60 years. Last year I noted this analysis from UBS:

What about the government? Government investment and infrastructure spending has all but ceased as a result of political differences between the ruling and opposition parties. Political disagreements have blocked many government spending programs in the last few years. This year is no different. The budget is currently on hold due to disagreements over how the Central Election Committee will be staffed. Whereas a few years a go the budget deficit exceeded 6% of GDP it has now shrunk to around 1% of GDP. This drop in the government’s need to finance the fiscal balance has contributed significantly to Taiwan’s low interest rate environment. The upcoming parliamentary election in December and the presidential election in March next year could reverse this pressures and lead to higher interest rates in 2009 if the government becomes unified again. However, that is a ways off.

The fall-off in infrastructure spending upon which the local political economy depends has been one of the reasons for the stagnant local incomes, as people who hustled for jobs in public construction saw less of that work during the DPP government — and blamed the DPP, however unfairly, for that dearth of work. Now that the KMT is back in power, it will need to recoup its expenditures, and to replenish its local networks, on k-rations as the KMT-dominated legislature has starved the local level. The infrastructure spigots are going to be turned back on, local networks are going to re-orient around that single legislator, and Taiwan is going to go back to the future…..

….. and the KMT is going to do even better in the next legislative election — though no doubt the next set of western-centric bloggers is going to right on blaming the DPP. “Hey, the DPP got crushed again! It must be the DPP’s fault. If only that had really really pointed out how bad the legislature was!” Someday the truth about voting behavior in an island that elected Yen Ching-piao while jail for murder, elected legislators on the run from the police, elected Hsu Tai-li as mayor of Keelung while under indictment and replaced him with a convicted vote buyer when he died….. And then there was Wu Tze-yuan, whose followers carried him into the election commission in Pingtung so he could register as a candidate because diabetes left him to ill to walk…Wu had just been sentenced to life for corruption and was running as a KMT candidate against the party’s official wishes…and is now in hiding in China…..someday the simple truth that voters pick candidates, in a sense, because they are “corrupt” – will penetrate. Not this election, though.

I sent off a letter to the Taipei Times but they evidently didn’t want it, though they did publish David Pendery’s pricelessly asinine letter on the election. In any case, here’s my thumbnail analysis of the future from the end of that letter:

What can we expect for the future? This is not the kind of electoral system where the party on the outside can regroup and then stage a comeback in the next election. Thus, the western-centric claim that “this will be good for the DPP” is badly misguided. It will be good neither for the DPP nor for Taiwan. First each legislator is now serving at least twice as many people — which means they need twice as much cash. Second, studies of Japan show that as one-party dominance of the legislature rises, spending on particularistic services also rises. Both of these observations suggest that corruption in Taiwan’s local politics will undoubtedly increase — if the reader can imagine that. Further, because constituents will only have one legislator rather than several as under the old system, local political and business networks will have no choice but to re-orient themselves around that legislator, since that is who will bring them home the bacon they need to survive. That will only further cement the dominant party’s grip on local politics.

In sum, we are looking at the first step in a potential permanent majority — as KMT heavyweights themselves have hinted with their recent positive remarks on one-party rule in Singapore. How the KMT handles this remains to be seen — victory may stress the KMT so much that it will fall apart — but then it has always been an ethnic coalition lashed together by flows of money. And now, again, it has unlimited access to those flows.

What are we going to see? Massive increases in public construction outlays and corresponding rises in government debt (and inflation!) and of course, public corruption. And the remarks about Singapore should be taken to refer to (1) a warning of dominant one-party rule for the foreseeable future and (2) a deliberate campaign of lawsuits against party opponents. Ma is already suing his prosecutors and has threatened the bureaucracy by reminding them that the DPP will not be in power forever and revenge will come; a blogger got sued for satirizing a politician…..the KMT contemplated this strategy before, in the 1980s, and experimented with it in the past. Remember, as KMT politician Hsu Shui-de publicly claimed: the courts belong to the KMT, and tremble….