Before we get into the meat of this post, I’d like to direct everyone to this great Asian Studies Toolbar by John Noyce. It has links to Asian Studies stuff on the internet, media, journals, blogs, and a host of other stuff. Installs automatically, easy to use, and customizable…. and he has fantastic taste in Taiwan blogs.

When I was younger I aspired to be a man of letters, and now that I’ve reached that age where my waistline expands as my hairline recedes, I’ve reached that goal — letters are my life. Today a response I made to a piece of Chinese propaganda in the Yale paper a few weeks ago made its way into a letter in the Taipei Times. Stuff that gets into any media, however semi-serious, needs to be responded to, because those responses reach people.

More fun with letters occurred a couple of weeks ago when Taipei-based David Pendery responded to my response to him. It’s mostly evidence-free rambling:

Again, we can see his point, but in sum, what Turton implies is that Taiwanese voters concern themselves more about a plate of free beef noodles and a little questionable assistance with a legal problem than the education of their children, the state of their economy, the environment they live in, crime and public order, the cost of housing, infrastructure development, etc. Such a claim I will not abide by.

Ultimately, I would be more inclined to agree with Jerome Keating — whatever his political view — when he wrote that the KMT “is not monolithic. Contrasting viewpoints abound and power struggles continue beneath the surface.”

Such a view undermines Turton’s apocalyptic prediction of a “permanent majority.”

In any event, I am not endorsing or criticizing any one party.

Rather, I am trying to point out that respect for the various viewpoints in this country, to say nothing of more empathetic, impartial and tolerant attitudes toward Taiwanese voters and their issues (yes, their issues) is necessary to make progress in this country.

As a matter of fact, the LDP wasn’t a monolith either, but it did enjoy a 38 year grip on Japan. One quirk of this exchange: the letter he responded to was a truncated version of this longer piece which the Taipei Times had already published. The TT published two versions of the same letter!….what had happened was that I sent in the first piece but about 8 days went by and it wasn’t published. I figured it was too long, so I lopped off the limbs and sent it back as a response to Pendery, and they ended up publishing both. My favorite part of Pendery’s letter, unmarred by numbers or critical thought, is the part where he claims he isn’t “criticizing any party.” His original letter said:

Instead of apportioning blame and howling about the injustice of it all, the DPP and its supporters need to wake up to reality and rein in their worst instincts. The supercilious tone of the DPP’s cheerleaders, their self-righteous declamations of exactly what anyone and everyone in Taiwan should and must think and do, and their routine denigration of one half or more of Taiwan’s population have gotten utterly tiresome. These are all reasons, I think, that many people are in the process of drumming the DPP out of power.

LOL. Boy, it’s a good thing Pendery isn’t criticizing any one party, eh?

Finally, I also sent in a letter on the problem with the districting arrangements, which as I noted in my post on gerrymandering below, favored the KMT. It didn’t make the Taipei Times’ grade, so here it is, gratis:

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How the Districting Affected the Election

Although the conventional wisdom assigns the DPP defeat in the Jan 12 legislative election to the disatisfaction with Chen Shui-bian, and the “failing economy”, the reality is that structural factors played a key role. Among these were the districting arrangements, which favored the KMT.

According to the law, districts must be drawn by population, and must follow city and county boundaries. These sensible, strict rules generally prevent the drawing of cross-district boundaries that result in the absurd districts so common in the US. Based on these, the Central Election Commission’s original proposal alloted 8 districts to Taipei City, 12 to Taipei County, and 6 to Taoyuan. For Tainan city and county, just five districts were created.

To understand the effect of this on the vote, it is necessary to look at the voting population, not at the general population. In Tainan those five districts average 283,000 registered voters each (the national average is 230,000 voters); for Taoyuan, the same average is 225,000; for Taipei County, 235,000; for Taipei City; 251,000. Of the districts that CEC created by cutting up counties, 4 of the 5 largest by voting population are in Tainan. Using the Taoyuan average as a standard, the Tainan area should have had at least one more district. Using the Tainan average for the north, roughly speaking, Taoyuan has 1 extra seat, Taipei city 1 extra seat, and Taipei County 2 extra seats.[MT: the effect is even more pronounced because if you drop the five districts on the east coast and the islands, whose populations are unusually small, the average for the populated west coast and Ilan is about 240,000 voters per district. The average district size in both Taoyuan and Taipei County is smaller than that. Any way you measure it, it sure looks like somebody shoehorned in extra districts in the north.]

Of the ten largest districts (by voting population) created out of counties, seven are in the south: the five Tainan districts and the two in Yunlin County. There is no apparent reason for this (though of course the “right” size is debateable) — Pingtung County, with a general population of 834,000 (631,000 voters), was chopped into three small districts, while Tainan county, with a general population of 1.1 million people (847,000 voters), was awarded three giant seats. Conversely, the CEC had no trouble creating districts in Taichung County, Pingtung, Kaohsiung City, Nantou, and Miaoli of under 200,000 voters — a figure that would have awarded Tainan at least two more seats. In Kaohsiung, where the KMT has a powerful local presence, districts averaged only 229,000 voters each.

In sum, the CEC’s original proposal created smaller districts in Blue areas and very large ones in Tainan, essentially denying more than 200,000 voters in Tainan representation that was granted to voters in other districts. Size matters greatly; the KMT won 18 of the 20 smallest districts. Had the election been more closely contested, the “extra” Blue seats would have had a strong impact.

Another effect of the districting plan is the large number of safe Blue seats. Counting the islands (3), the east coast (2), Keelung (1), Hsinchu County (1), Taichung County 2 (Yen Ching-piao), the North (26), and Blue-leaning Miaoli (2) and Nantou (2), and assuming a loss here and there, almost half the seats are safely Blue. The Blues need only win half the remainder to win an overwhelming legislative majority.
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I deleted the remainder, mostly criticisms of the DPP’s election planning.