Author Archives: Fiona Yap

South Korea – Impeachment of the President: Critical Citizens and Political Will

On December 9, 2016, the South Korean legislature voted 234 to 56 (with two abstentions and seven invalid votes) to impeach the sitting president, Park Geun-hye. Two-thirds of the legislature – or 200 votes – is required for impeachment to succeed. The opposition and independents added to only 172 votes, so that at least 28 members of the Saenuri Party would have to cross the aisle in order for impeachment to pass. As late as December 2, 2016, it was unclear that there would be enough votes for impeachment: President Park’s offer to resign on November 29 threw a wrench in discussions between the three opposition parties, and within the Saenuri party. Yet, in a week, bolstered by the large and growing protests against the President Park, the opposition pulled together to pass the impeachment vote, the second successful impeachment of a sitting president since Korea’s democratization in 1987. The successful vote, then, offers a useful study of the opposition in the legislature, and the role of the opposition in the electorate in delivering the necessary political will.

The opposition in the legislature comprises three political parties – the main opposition Minjoo Party with 123 seats, the People’s Party with 38 seats, and the Justice Party with 6 seats – and independents; it also includes the non-Park members of the Saenuri Party. The Minjoo Party and the People’s Party had fractured from the former opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD); among the independents, some are disgruntled members of the NPAD while some are the disenfranchised members of the Saenuri Party who left following the candidate-nomination fights for general elections in April, 2016. Among the opposition, then, political hostility reigned high, so that the camaraderie that led to the fragile agreement between the three opposition parties cracked easily, such as when Minjoo Chair Choo Mi-ae attempted to broker a deal for the president’s resignation.

In the Saenuri Party, the non-Park faction had suffered a series of crippling setbacks in standoffs with the President that were generally resolved in favour of the President since 2015.[i] Indeed, even following the surprising electoral trouncing that led the ruling party to lose its majority in the legislature, the non-Park members were stymied in their efforts to build – or revive – a viable alternative to the pro-Park faction. Still, in this political crisis, non-Park members rallied to constitute 12 members of the crisis management council – it includes former chair of the Saenuri Party, Representative Kim Moo-sung, and former floor leader, Representative Yoo Seung-min – to bring party members into supporting impeachment. But, the strength of the President Park’s advocates in the party must be noted: even with the President’s impeachment, the new floor leaders of the Saenuri Party are from the pro-Park faction.

But for the united and expanding opposition in the electorate, the tenuous union of the opposition in the legislature may have crumbled in the face of further compromises from the executive. Critical citizens – citizens who question government authority or adopt unconventional participation, including protests, to influence government policies – have consistently battled to keep their concerns on the political agenda in South Korea.[2] This is no mean feat, given the discord among the opposition in the legislature, and notwithstanding concessions and compromises from the executive. Their steadfastness – hitting a record two million in weekly protests since October – buttressed the resolve of the opposition parties in the legislature, and likely convinced wavering members of the Saenuri Party to support the non-Park vote for impeachment.

Indeed, many predict that this opposition in the electorate will be critical in swaying the mostly-conservative Constitutional Court, which will have the final say in the impeachment process. Six Constitutional Court justices must support impeachment before the President is removed from office; the quorum for binding vote is seven. The Court has 180 days to decide on the impeachment; however, two of the nine justices are scheduled to retire in March 2017, which increases the odds that six of the remaining seven will vote to support impeachment. Still, the opinions of the justices will be made public; this, together with the strong public will against the President, may deliver the impeachment.

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[i] O. Fiona Yap, 2016. “South Korea in 2015: Battling to Set the Stage for Elections.” Asian Survey vol 56 no 1: 78-86

[2] See Norris, P. (2002). Democratic Phoenix. Political Activism Worldwide. New Social Movements, Protest Politics and the Internet: Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; Kim, S. (2010). Public trust in government in Japan and South Korea: Does the rise of critical citizens matter? Public administration review, 70(5), 801-810; Sander, T. H., & Putnam, R. D. (2010). Still bowling alone?: The post-9/11 split. Journal of Democracy, 21(1), 9-16.

 

 

South Korea – President Park in the battle of her career: Lessons for Legislative and Electoral Oppositions around the World

On November 13, 2016, a series of protests culminated into a million-strong demonstration in central Seoul to demand President Park Geun-hye’s resignation. It is the largest protest to hit the country in 30 years, even larger than the pro-democracy demonstrations that ushered the liberalization of the autocratic political system in 1987. And, it was not limited to the capital: smaller-scale protests were held in cities across the country. The immediate trigger to this is the influence of Park’s confidante, Choi Soon-sil, on the President’s personal and state decisions that ranged from outfits to presidential appointments. This is not new: the President – widely considered unconsultative even within her own ruling Saenuri party – has faced criticisms and political challenges resulting from the control and influence of the coterie of friends and advisors who limit access to her since she took office in 2012.[i] What is new is the magnitude and determination of the protests: until now, the fractured opposition – in the legislature and in the electorate – has failed to pose a viable challenge to the government. Clearly, the tide has turned, so that the President – who as Queen of Elections has consistently weathered these influence- and corruption-scandals – is facing considerable odds to hang on to her position. It pays to examine how the opposition in the legislature has failed in the past and how the electorate has stepped up to lead this battle to crest.

The opposition in the legislature suffered – and continues to suffer – from a volatility that has challenged its institutionalization. The current legislature has two main opposition parties, the Minjoo Party with a plurality of 123 seats, and the People’s Party with 38 seats. Both parties constituted the New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) in April 2014; their split on December 13, 2015, was surprising but not unexpected: it underscored the feuds – frequently open – within the alliance, as well as between factions in the Minjoo Party. Still, the alliance split seemed to foreshadow further splits within the Minjoo Party and looked set to hand the electoral advantage to the ruling Saenuri Party. Fortunately for the opposition, and likely unfortunately for the Saenuri Party, the ruling party’s supermajority prospects – in the face of the opposition split – crumbled. In particular, party discord between the pro-Park and the non-Park factions led to candidate-nomination fights and party departures of senior Saenuri party members to run as independents in the elections. In this context of these conditions, the general elections for April 2016, led to the following outcomes: opposition Minjoo Party with the plurality of 123 seats, Saenuri Party with 122 seats, People’s Party with 38 seats, Justice Party with 6, and 11 independents.

Yet the electoral outcomes speak less to the parties than to the electorate. Electoral turnout was close to 60% in April, a low figure that, nevertheless, exceeded previous elections. Importantly, young voters featured prominently in the 2016 polls: 79.5 percent in their 30s, 72.9 percent of those in their 40s and 53.7 percent in their 50s voted for the opposition. Among those over 60, 59.3 percent cast ballots for the ruling party, compared to 35.2 percent for an opposition party.

In democracies, political parties represent an important development where they displace personalistic politics or candidate-centered politics to perform as recurring sources for aggregating voters’ interests into cogent political agendas based on programmatic contestation that undergirds executive-legislative relations. However, party roles are a-changing and not just in the emergent democracies. In the case of South Korea, the current political climate has foisted responsibilities onto the electorate, where a lack of a viable opposition to take aim and provide an electable alternative to the government means that the civil society pressures must persist.[ii]

Korean society has responded to the call: from the large and regular rallies in the aftermath of the Sewol tragedy to maintain public awareness, to the smaller drives against the tax reform debacle of 2015, civil society has pressed the government for accountability at considerable expense. It is this level of public activity and commitment that underpins hopes that substantive changes are in store for the country.

Indeed, but for this public activity, the on-again-off-again liaisons between the different factions within the main opposition party, the Minjoo Party, as well as across opposition parties, may not have materialized: as had occurred often in the past, the divided opposition turned on itself as the newly-minted leader of the Minjoo Party arranged to meet with President Park over the scandal. The leader, Representative Choo Mi-ae, narrowly averted further fallout by cancelling the meeing. Still, the objections to the meeting underline how easily the opposition in the legislature fractures, particularly in the face of President Park’s concessions. And, President Park has expanded efforts to mollify the opposition: she has reversed her previous opposition to constitutional revisions – a key demand of non-Park supporters in her party, as well as among the oppositionand nominated key aides to the late liberal presidents Roh Moh-hyun and Kim Dae-Jung as Prime Minister and chief-of-staff.

Notwithstanding these legislative-executive ebbs and flows, public activity has remained the mainstay that underpins the current resolve to force the President to be accountable. The public activism is fueled from different wellsprings. Still, the opposition parties in the legislature are taking cues off this public resolve to present a rare concerted front. Oppositions across nations may do well to take note. And, take heart.

  1. [i] O. Fiona Yap, 2015, “ South Korea in 2014: A Tragedy Reveals the Country’s Weaknesses
  2. [ii] O. Fiona Yap, 2016, “South Korea in 2015: Battling to Set the Stage for Elections”

Taiwan – Softly, Softly, The President Navigates DPP and Cross-Strait Relations

Presidents who are not ceremonial executives generally come under scrutiny following the first 100-day honeymoon after inauguration, when the policy horizon is no longer paved with unencumbered goodwill from the electorate, legislator, or international community. President Tsai Ing-wen is no exception. Indeed, as the executive with majority party support of the erstwhile opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in the legislature, the first woman elected to the presidency in Taiwan is likely to be closely watched to see if she is able to implement her policy agenda. That such success evaded the former president elected from the DPP, President Chen Shui-bian, whose agenda was stonewalled by the Pan-Blue majority in the legislature, likely compounds interest and attention on President Tsai. Yet, having a legislative-majority support comes with challenges: in particular, China is keeping close watch on if, when, or how the executive and legislature in Taiwan may adopt policies that veer away from the “one China” 1992 consensus. There is, then, much to appreciate in President Tsai’s ability to maintain her steadfastness that balances the demands of some of the core constituencies of the DPP on the one hand, and the demands and pressures of China on the other.

The DPP, like most parties, comprises factions, and a core bloc in the party favours independence. President Tsai’s previous run as presidential candidate for the DPP in 2012 drew on this core, and she lost out to former President Ma Jing-yeou in that race. The second time around in the 2016 elections, President Tsai was careful to apply the lessons learned: she has been steadfast in maintaining a cautiously-worded stance regarding relations with China that acknowledges the importance of the 1992 meeting that gave rise to the “one China” consensus but without explicitly recognising the one China principle.

The moderates in her party support the delicate stance: in the July 2016 party congress, a motion was made to remove the objective of Taiwan independence contained in Article 1 of the party’s charter. The new resolution, if passed, will change Article 1 to read: “. . . it is the party’s objective to establish cross-strait status quo. . .” However, at the same congress, the pro-independence faction also moved to change the country’s official title from the Republic of China to Taiwan, with the reminder that the DPP has legislative majority and control of the executive to effect changes. The second motion was also sent up to the DPP Central Executive Committee for review.

Possibilities such as the second motion are concerning to China, and China’s response has been to tighten the diplomatic screws while calling out President Tsai’s failure to acknowledge the 1992 consensus. There are concerns that China may tighten the economic screws, which will hurt Taiwan’s sluggish economy. As an indication, tourists from China have fallen by 30 percent since President Tsai’s inauguration, and that has made an impact on the tourist industry in Taiwan, as protestors highlight.

It is clear that this is no easy path to trudge: Taiwan’s unique standing in the international community is bound in its relations with China, so that cross-strait relations reverberate onto domestic agenda and the government’s policy-effectiveness. China has been very clear on what it needs to see from President Tsai, in order to maintain ongoing political peace and economic stability. Meanwhile, the electorate is beating the drums for a quick economic turnround, but is also resistant to painful reforms that are likely to be part of the turnaround. How well the President’s softly, softly approach, to the factions in her party, to the electorate, and to China, will clearly be tested thoroughly.

The Philippines – President Duterte Takes Aim … (and Vigilantes Deliver …)

President Rodrigo Duterte’s candidacy when he was campaigning for office was, euphemistically speaking, colourful. Not one to shy from controversy – indeed, he seemed to thrive on generating them – Duterte as presidential candidate likely riled as many voters as he won over. The final election tally showed 16.6 million votes for Duterte, more than 6.5 million higher than the next candidate, Mar Roxas; however, that constitutes only 39 percent of the votes cast. Perhaps as an olive branch to the other 61 percent of the voters, Duterte promised that he would be “presidential” once he takes office, and temper his language, delivery, and modus operandi. That change remains pending, as the recent kerfuffle from President Duterte’s impudent reference to President Obama reveals. Meanwhile, however, the Duterte presidency is on track to deliver on some of the more controversial, and concerning, promises.

Top on that list of the President’s promises are the war on drugs and law-and-order, particularly organized crime. The President pledged in his first State-of-the-Nation address that “we will not stop until the last drug lord, the last financier and the last pusher have surrendered or been put behind bars or are below the ground if they so wish.” As if to make good on that pledge, on August 8, 2016, the President named 159 “narco-officials” – mayors, judges, congress representatives, and police involved in the drug trade – and gave them 24 hours to surrender or be tracked down by security forces; on that cue, police and the military disarmed and relieved those in armed services on that list, and pulled out security escorts for those in government.

Indeed, backed by rewards and the President’s assurance of protection, almost 3000 killings have occurred since the President took office, with about half attributable to vigilantes, the Philippine National Police reported on September 10, 2016. The peril of being gunned down has led an estimated 700,000 to surrender, far exceeding the government’s capacity to rehabilitate or support. Notwithstanding, the President has refused to back away from sanctioning extrajudicial killings; instead, while expressing “cause for concern” regarding the vigilante murders, the Presidential Office has declared the war on drugs a success. And, President Duterte has hit back at the senate inquiry into extrajudicial killings with accusations that the chair, Senator Leila de Lima, is linked to drug syndicates.

On other fronts, President Duterte has also made good on his promise to address corruption in the country, by declaring all appointive offices vacant on August 22, 2016, so that the positions may be staffed with appointments made by the Presidential Management Staff. The move affected thousands, and left in office only those appointed after June 30. The President also followed up on his pledge to work for former President Arroyo’s release from prison: on July 30, the Supreme Court ordered her release on the grounds of insufficient evidence against her. And, President Duterte has approved former President Marcos’ burial at Libingan ng mga Bayani, or “heroes cemetery,” despite protests against that decision. That decision has been put on hold by the Supreme Court, which is hearing arguments on that decision.

The President is largely unfettered: he enjoys the support of a super-majority in the legislature, and has a 91 percent trust rating (by way of contrast, Vice President Leni Robredo has 62 percent). His proposed constitutional change into federalism for the Philippines is unlikely to hit obstacles: to that end, the President has moved towards a constitutional assembly, rather than a constitutional convention, so that lawmakers will draft and approve the changes. The use of a constitutional assembly has ignited concerns that legislators may carve a constitution that will save their jobs rather than the country, but the President has assured the public that there is nothing to worry: he will treat self-serving lawmakers “like drug addicts.” A threat that few have difficulty envisioning, it seems.

 

The Philippines – General Elections 2016: Results and Next Steps

Official results for the general elections in the Philippines are now posted: the Commission on Elections (Comelec) announced the 12 senators to the Senate on May 19, while the official canvassing by Congress, which began on May 25 and ended ahead of schedule on May 27. The 1987 Constitution vests Congress with the formal authority to canvass the votes for the presidency and vice-presidency. Voter turnout was estimated at 81 percent, which exceeded the turnouts for the previous general elections in 2010 (74.7 percent) and the midterm elections in 2013 (77 percent).

The final results of the official canvassing show Rodrigo Duterte as president-elect, with more than 16.6 million votes in his favour and far exceeding runner-up Manuel Roxas’s 9.98 million votes. In the vice-presidential race, Leni Robredo’s 14.4 million votes is a tight win over the second-place candidate, Ferdinand Marcos Jr, who received 14.16 million votes. Unofficial results had shown a tight contest in the vice-presidential race, so that, not surprisingly, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and his camp were prepped to challenge the results – including filing a request to audit the automated election system – to stop the congressional canvassing and announcement of the official results. However, that request for audit was denied by Comelec. Marcos Jr. and his camp have promised to keep up the fight. And, President-elect Rodrigo Duterte – who had selected Marcos Jr. as his Vice-Presidential running-mate – may have weighed in on the expected ongoing saga, when he resisted giving Vice-president elect Leni Robredo a cabinet position.

For the Senate, Comelec announced on May 19 the 12 who will be taking up Senate. They are, in order of votes received:

Franklin Drilon (Liberal Party) Former senator
Emmanuel Joel Villanueva (Liberal Party) First-timer
Vicente “Tito” Sotto III (Nationalist People’s Coalition) Former senator
Panfilo “Ping” Lacson (Independent) Re-elected incumbent
Richard “Dick” Gordon (Independent) Re-elected incumbent
Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri (Independent) Re-elected incumbent
Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao (United Nationalist Alliance) First-timer
Ana Theresia “Risa” Hontiveros (Akbayan Citizens’ Action Party) First-timer
Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan (Liberal Party) Re-elected incumbent
Sherwin “Win” Gatchalian (Nationalist People’s Coalition) First-timer
Ralph Recto (Liberal Party) Former senator
Leila Norma Eulalia Josefa de Lima (Liberal Party) First-timer

The party of outgoing President Aquino III, the Liberal Party (LP), will occupy five of the 24 seats in the Senate; on paper, it will also be the largest party in the House, with 116 or 49 percent of 238-seat House. This is followed by the National People’s Coalition (NPC) with 42 seats, and then the Nacionalista Party and National Unity Party, each holding 23 seats. The President-elect’s Partido Demokratikong Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) successfully elected only three representatives into the 238-seat lower House

Notwithstanding, representatives are falling in line with the President-elect. Indeed, since the elections, the newly-elected have either jumped ship to join the President-elect’s PDP-Laban, or aligned themselves with the President-elect; they include prominent LP House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. As a result, the President-elect may have cobbled together a super-majority in Congress.

The President-elect will need this supermajority, to pass his agenda, which includes changing the Constitution and reimposing the death penalty in the Philippines. Some had speculated that the President-elect, popularly known as “Duterte Harry” because of his shoot-first, ask later persona, will be more circumspect with the high office. With the support of a supermajority, that seems unlikely.

The Philippines – Presidential Elections 2016: The Controversial President?

On May 9, 2016, a total of 18,069 national and local positions were decided at elections in the Philippines. Five candidates ended on the final ballot list for the presidential race, although the Commission on Elections (Comelec) had tipped seven to make it to the certified list of “nuisance candidates” out of the total of 130 candidates who filed to run for the certificates of candidacy.[i] They are:

The unofficial tally reports Duterte as the winner of the presidential race, more than six million votes ahead of the second place candidate, Roxas. In the vice-presidential race, Representative Leni Robredo leads Senator Ferdinand Marcos by 200,000 votes. Voters have a vote each for the presidential and vice-presidential races, and surveys leading up to elections show that respondents are not constrained by the presidency and vice-presidency teams running for elections. In fact, split ticket voting – i.e., votes for president and vice-president candidates from different teams – appear to be the norm.

In the run-up to the elections, the presidential race was dogged by the issue of citizenship and residency, specifically for then-front-runner Senator Grace Poe. Poe had scored an early victory in November 2015, when the Senate Electoral Tribunal ruled against the disqualification case against her. However, shortly thereafter, in a 34-page document, the Comelec disqualified Poe from the presidential race for failing to meet the residency requirement. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court; in March, 2016, the Court overruled Comelec in a 9-6 ruling to pave the way for Poe’s presidential candidacy.

Meanwhile, the progression of the case against Poe also saw an erosion of support for her candidacy, and an increase in support for Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte. Duterte had repeatedly denied interest in the presidency, despite equally persistent rumours of the possibility of his presidential run; the candidate finally announced his candidacy in November, due to his “disappointment” at the Senate Tribunal ruling for Poe. Despite or because of a series of controversial stances – Duterte may well be the Philippines answer to Donald Trump in the US – Duterte quickly overtook Poe as front-runner in election surveys. In the last weeks of the political campaign, Duterte’s maintained more than 10 percentage points ahead of his rivals, despite eliciting international criticism for an off-color rape joke made, and notwithstanding allegations of the mayor’s hidden assets that included 49 properties.

The lead-up to the elections also suggests that a Duterte’s presidency is likely to remain as controversial as his candidacy. The candidate has promised to run the country as he did with Davao City, and that has given cause for alarm. In particular, “Duterte Harry” has threatened to punish criminals without due process, including shooting them or feeding them to the fishes. Given Duterte’s alleged involvement with the Davao death squads – where masked vigilantes gunned down criminal- and drug-dealing suspects – such pronouncements are not easily dismissed. The mayor has also promised to abolish Congress if elected, to end corruption. In response, President Aquino II tried to unite the other presidential candidates against Duterte’s run to avert regress of democratic- and political rights in the country. However, as the unofficial results indicate, these have not upended Duterte’s presidency. Without doubt, the next six years will see some contentious initiatives out of the new president.

[i] Those who make a mockery of the election system; those who seek to confuse voters through similarity of names between candidates; and those who have no bona fide or good faith in running for office.

South Korea – Election outcomes 2016 and Presidential runs 2017

The outcome of the general elections – opposition Minjoo Party with the plurality of 123 seats, Saenuri Party with 122 seats, People’s Party with 38 seats, Justice Party with 6, and 11 independents – makes clear that public tolerance for party politics and fissures has peaked. The dissent over candidate nominations, party platforms, and open conflicts between party leaders  on full public display just months before the election – the dissolution of the opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy, the splintering of the ruling Saenuri Party, and the establishment of the new People’s Party – led to an increasing rather than declining number of “undecided” swing voters as election day neared. It was clear to candidates, party-leaders, and prospective presidential candidates, that the outcomes were far from settled. The results – with Saenuri party losing a majority and falling behind the opposition Minjoo Party as largest legislative party – has significant bearing on the presidential race in 2017. In particular, the outcomes for the legislative parties promise to translate into political leverage to set the platform, viability, and credibility of candidates for the presidential elections in 2017.

The stakes going into the general elections were high. For instance, former opposition Minjoo party leader, Moon Jae-in, announced that he would quit politics – and his possible presidential run – based on election outcomes in the opposition party’s strongholds. The Minjoo Party did not do well in its traditional strongholds: it lost all eight districts in Gwangju to the opposition People’s Party, and only won three of the 20 seats in the North and South Jeolla provinces. The party did much better in the Saenuri strongholds of Busan, Daegu and North and South Gyeongsang provinces, where the Saenuri Party lost a total of 17 seats.

The remarkable performance of Representative Ahn Cheol-soo’s co-founded People’s Party – 38 seats, beating some of the most optimistic predictions – certainly bodes well for his consideration of a presidential run. The People’s Party was formally launched on February 2, 2016, co-founded with representative Chun Jung-bae who also left the opposition NPAD and successfully contested the Gwangju seat as an independent in the April 2015 by-elections. The People’s Party was not without problems: not long following the official launch, senior party members fought openly over the possibility of merging with the opposition Minjoo Party. Still, the Party managed to smooth over the tensions, and the achievement of a legislative negotiation bloc, plus the possible role of pivotal party in the legislature, will keep the hopes of a promising presidential run very much alive.

Meanwhile, outcomes for the Saenuri party will affect President Park’s influence on the party’s choice of presidential candidate for 2017. With at least two parties battling over liberal voters, the conservative ruling Saenuri party looked set to coast to a majority. Indeed, at the beginning of the 2016, political pundits and analysts did not rule out a 180-seat majority win for the party that would allow the party to pursue its legislative agenda without the need to compromise. That possibility eroded when party discord between the pro-Park and the non-Park factions led to candidate-nomination fights and party departures of senior Saenuri party members to run as independents in the elections. Polls showed the Saenuri party losing support in its traditional strongholds, and party strategists turned to ensuring that it did not lose its legislative majority. The party’s focus on national security issues, in the face of North Korea’s bellicosity, seemed like a safe-bet. Still, the dimmed economic outlook for the country, and the progressive encroachment on civil rights and liberties in the country, underlined that the safe-bet was not enough to galvanize public support. With this loss in the parliamentary majority, the “queen of elections” may no longer be able stave off the possibility of a “lame duck” presidency for the remainder of President Park’s time in office.[1]

[1] O. Fiona Yap. 2016. “South Korea in 2015: Battling to Set the Stage for Elections” Asian Survey vol 56 no1: 78-86 http://as.ucpress.edu/content/56/1/78

South Korea – General Elections 2016: Prospects, Possibilities, and Problems

General elections are around the corner, scheduled for April 13, 2016. A possible total of 300 seats are up for grabs: 246 from single-member districts, and 54 by proportional representation. “Possible” because the Constitutional Court had ruled in 2014 that the electoral map must be revised by the end of 2015 to uphold equal representation, which, according to the Court, means that the current ratio of the most populous electoral district to the least populous of 3 to 1 must be lowered to less than 2 to 1. The deadline has come and passed, with the legislature failing to agree on how to redraw the electoral map. Meanwhile, with less than 100 days to elections, the race is off … to an ambiguous start. What are the prospects, possibilities, and problems for election 2016?

One problem – and it is a huge one – is the lack of an electoral map of the contestable districts. Notwithstanding the lack of an electoral map, the National Election Commission (NEC) announced that candidates may register their preliminary candidacy between January 1, 2016 and March 23, 2016. Registering means that candidates may carry out limited campaign activities up to 120 days prior to Election Day: candidates may establish a campaign office, make campaign phone calls, and conduct a limited number of campaign activities; in contrast, prospective candidates, who must register during the final candidate registration period for the National Assembly between March 24-25, are generally prohibited from pursuing these activities. Also, incumbents running for re-election are allowed to contact their constituencies, which further benefits their re-election campaign. New parties with fewer incumbents, then, suffer several disadvantages. Perhaps not surprisingly, the newly-launched People’s Party by Representative Ahn Cheol-soo, former presidential candidate, proposed delaying the elections as a result of the legislature’s failure to approve an electoral map. That proposal was roundly rejected by the ruling Saenuri Party, and also opposed by the opposition Minjoo Party, the remnant of the opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD).

Perhaps more interesting, what are the possible parties contesting elections and their prospects? The are three large parties or blocs that comprise or are close to comprising at least 20 legislators, the minimum size of a legislative negotiation blocs: the ruling Saenuri Party (156, as of January 12, 2016); the Minjoo Party (118, as of January 12, 2016), and the People’s Party (17, as of February 3, 2016). A negotiation bloc is accorded rights to negotiate legislative calendars and receive higher state subsidies. Both the Minjoo Party and the People’s Party have been actively recruiting members since the NPAD split in December, 2015.

The People’s Party was formally launched on February 2, 2016; it is led by Representative Ahn Cheol-soo and Representative Chun Jung-bae, both of whom left the opposition NPAD. Representative Ahn Cheol-soo, co-founder of the NPAD, left on December 13, 2015, following open disagreements with NPAD’s then-chair, Moon Jae-in. Representative Chun Jung-bae left the NPAD in March, 2015 and successfully won the Gwangju seat as an independent in the April by-elections; in September, he announced plans to set up a party to contest the general elections. Although the People’s Party has seen a spate of new additions since January, it remains thee legislators short of the minimum 20 needed for a negotiation bloc.

Meanwhile, the Minjoo Party has been aggressively recruiting to stem the flood of high-profile defections from the party that included Representative Kwon Rho-kap, leader of the Kim Dae-jung faction of the former NPAD, who defected in January. The party is in talks for a merger with the Justice Party, which holds five legislative seats; the party has also brought in Lee Soo-hyuck, former deputy foreign minister and chief delegate for the six-party negotiation talks with North Korea, and recruited President Park Geun-hye’s economic strategist for her 2012 presidential campaign, Kim Jong-in, to run the election campaign committee. In addition, Chair Moon Jae-in has stepped down as chair of the party to cede authority to the campaign committee. These efforts may be paying off: a poll of possible presidential candidates conducted in January, 2016, showed Moon in the lead, ahead of Ahn and Saenuri Chair Kim Moo-sung, for the first time since May, 2015.

With at least two parties battling over liberal voters, the conservative ruling Saenuri party looks set to coast to a majority. President Park’s uncanny ability to deliver electoral victories is imponderable: in the April 2015 by-elections, the ruling party swept three of the four contestable seats in the face of record low approvals, stark poll numbers, and with almost every political pundit calling the election for the opposition NPAD. Clearly, she is not known as the “Queen of Elections” without reason. How well that works in April, 2016, will foreshadow much for the presidential race in 2017.

Taiwan: Presidential and General Elections, January 2016

January 16, 2016 witnessed two historic events in Taiwan: the election of the first female president, Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the first legislative majority for the DPP. Tsai was elected to the presidency with an absolute majority of 56.1% of the votes, Eric Chu of the Kuomintang (KMT) received 31 percent of the popular votes, and James Soong of the People First Party (PFP) got 12.8 percent of the votes. Turnout was 66.3 percent, the lowest since 1996 when direct elections of the presidency began.

In the 113 legislative-seat race, the Central Election Commission reported a total of 354 candidates for 73 regional seats, 23 aboriginal candidates for 6 seats, 18 parties with 179 candidates for 34 at-large seats. The at-large seat-allocation for the parties is:

DPP 18
KMT 11
PFP 3
New Power Party (NPP) 2

Source: Central Election Commission

With the election, DPP holds 68 seats of the 113-seat legislature (up from 40); the Kuomintang (KMT) has 35 seats (down from 64), and the NPP, a new party formed in January following the Sunflower Movement where student-led protestors occupied the legislature in protest of opaque cross-straits trade agreements, wins five legislative seats. The other parties to sit in the legislature include three seats for the PFP (no change), 1 seat for the Non-Partisan Solidarity Union (down from 2), and one seat to an independent.

Going into election day, Tsai was the consistent leader in the polls, hitting her stride early in the race as the candidate-nominee for the DPP with no other contenders for the nomination. Indeed, Tainan mayor, William Lai Ching-te, who was rumoured to be a possible contender, mayor advocated for the party to unite behind Tsai’s candidacy on his facebook page.

In contrast, the majority ruling party going into the election, the KMT, floundered. The party’s presidential nomination was notable for the lack of political heavyweights contesting the party’s nomination. The party officially nominated Hung Hsiu-chu, deputy legislative speaker, as party nominee at the party congress in July following her success at the two-stage party primary, but the candidate was dogged by lacklustre support within the party. Indeed, key party figures absented themselves from Hung’s campaigns, and party members’ resistance to Hung’s candidacy amplified when the chair of the People First Party (PFP) James Soong, entered the presidential race in August.

Soong’s contestation of the presidential race was not a surprise: the candidate had left the KMT to form the splinter PFP party in 2000 to contest presidential elections then. Soong was rumoured to be approached by former DPP Chair Shih Ming-the, who announced his own candidacy for the presidential elections in late May, about a possible joint-ticket. However, Shih struggled to obtain the 270,000 signatures as endorsement to be eligible as presidential candidate and exited the race in September. Soong’s entry into the presidential race saw him immediately placed ahead of KMT’s Hung. That may have emboldened the candidate, or perhaps it was a standing strategy, but Soong was rumoured to be seeking support from his erstwhile party comrades, a charge he denied even as his visits to former KMT council members became known.

Meanwhile, the KMT – which had maintained publicly of support for the party nomination of Hung – saw increasingly vocal and public party opposition to the candidate. On October 17, the KMT officially cancelled Hung’s candidacy and replaced the party-nomination with Eric Chu, the KMT party chair and Taipei City mayor.

Despite the party-switch – or, perhaps, because of it – Eric Chu never gained ground against Tsai. The party seemed to weaken further with the announcements of the vice presidential candidates: Tsai running mate was Academia Sinica Vice President Chen Chien-jen; Chu selected former labour minister, Jennifer Wang, while Soong’s vice-presidential nominee was Hsu Hsin-ying, chair of the newly formed Republic Party. Of the three vice-presidential nominees, Wang was the most controversial, igniting protests over her labour-rights record.

The presidential inauguration will be held on May 20, 2016. Meanwhile, the president-elect is busy getting her cabinet in order in the presidential-parliamentary system. 1 Optimism – and expectations — run high for the new president.

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  1. Elgie, Robert. “List of president-parliamentary and premier-presidential systems.” August 12, 2014. http://presidential-power.com/?p=1757

South Korea – Opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) Splits?

Former presidential candidate Representative Ahn Cheol-soo announced his departure from the NPAD on Sunday, December 13, 2015, ending a troubled relationship with the opposition alliance that he co-chaired when it was officially launched in April 2014. The NPAD has had its share of problems, failing to fill the role as a viable opposition expected by members and supporters. Still, Ahn’s departure is a significant blow: it bares open the fractures within the alliance that the leadership has ineffectually tried to reconcile. Meanwhile, with about four months till the general elections in April 2016, the fragmented opposition is likely to hand the electoral advantage to the ruling Saenuri Party, as the following account shows.

The first signs of trouble in the opposition alliance surfaced soon after its founding, on the issue of party-nomination reforms which the NPAD had pledged to observe for the June 2014 by-elections. Closed-door party-nominations have been blamed for feeding corruption, public disapprobation, and distrust; consequently, the NPAD’s initial resolve on reforming the process promised to bring “new” politics to challenge the predominant politicking-as-usual. However, while the NPAD pushed hard for the reform, the Saenuri party maintained the party-nomination process, which advantaged its party candidates. In the face of the growing disadvantage, NPAD members challenged the reform while old-timers such as Gwangju mayor Kang Un-tae and party spokesperson Representative Lee Yong-sup quit the party. In response to the open rift, voters handed the by-elections to the Saenuri Party, giving the party 11 seats but only four to the NPAD. 20 NPAD party leaders, including co-chairs Ahn and Kim, resigned from their leadership posts to take responsibility for the trouncing and a major leadership change was underway.[1]

The leadership change seemed completed at the party convention in February 2015, with 2012 opposition presidential candidate Rep Moon Jae-in installed at the helm. At the same time, however, the contest laid bare the three major factions in the alliance: (1) Moon, who leads the pro-Roh Moo-hyun faction that comprise supporters of the deceased former president; (2) Rep Park Jie-won, a leader of the pro-Kim Dae-jung faction that comprise supporters of the former president and Nobel-peace prize winner; and (3) Rep Lee In-young, a leader of the 486 faction that comprises former student activists and protestors of the authoritarian regime. Moon’s successful election did little to stem the party infighting. As a result, notwithstanding poor approvals for the president and the ruling party, the NPAD managed to snatch defeat from sure victory (again), losing all four seats in liberal strongholds in the April 29, 2015 by-elections, with three going to Saenuri and one to NPAD-turned-independent candidate, Chun Jung-bae.[2]

Since the 2015 by-election routing, the NPAD has openly feuded over responsibilities for the results. Ahn is not the first to bolt the party following the rising hostilities in the party, but his standing in the party is likely to induce others to follow suit. Thus, Ahn’s confidant and chief-of-staff, Rep. Moon Byung-ho, is expected to announce his departure by mid-December, and Moon predicts between 20 and 30 current NPAD members will join Ahn to create a new party. If Ahn and his allies manage to pool at least 20 seats in the legislature, Assembly rules means that it will be entitled to government subsidies and other parliamentary privileges.

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[1] Yap, O. Fiona. 2015. “South Korea in 2014: A Tragedy Reveals the Country’s Weaknesses.” Asian Survey vol 55 no 1: 132-141

[2] Yap, O. Fiona. 2015. “South Korea – Will the Opposition be a Viable Challenge in the 2016 Elections?”