With a highly unpopular President at the helm of the country, the prospects for the opposition pan-Green camp led by the opposition DPP party to recapture the presidency with a concurrent a legislative majority – the latter has proven elusive so far for the pan-Green camp – appear probable. The KMT captured the Presidency and a significant majority in the legislature in 2008, raising concerns that the formidable largesse of the party may pave the way to a one-party dominant system. Fortunately for the country’s political development, those concerns proved unfounded: there has been a steady move back to viable competitive elections, although the KMT managed to retain the presidency and the legislative majority in the 2012 elections. But the progressive erosion of popular support for the KMT and President Ma has not ebbed, as evident in the low points of 2014 captured by the 24-day student-led occupation of the legislature and campaigns initiated to recall legislative members supportive of President Ma’s agenda.
Under these conditions, it is probably not surprising that many see – or hope to see – the 2014 November local elections as the bellwether for the 2016 national elections. In this context, the DPP and pan-Green camp has sought to identify and field viable candidates for the local elections to capture a victory-sprint towards the presidential and national races. In a recent development, physician Ko Wen-je bettered DPP-candidate Pasuya Yao in the second stage of the pan-Green primary process for the Taipei city mayoral race and will likely be supported by the DPP for the election.
Interesting or competitive or controversial cases tend to draw attention, and a highly-watched race such as the Taipei mayoral elections is no exception. Unfortunately, problems are particularly evident under scrutiny, and the usual suspects of strategic voting or weak-party identification pepper the two-stage nomination process in the pan-Green camp. As a result, it may be useful to point out a larger picture of transparency or accountability in the party nomination process.
Since the late 1990s, the DPP has implemented a two-stage primary process that pitches DPP-aspirants who win in telephone polls in the first-stage against independent pan-Green candidates in the second-stage. While that process has been criticized – most recently, former Vice-President Annette Lu withdrew from the primary, citing failure of DPP “integrity” and raising the prospects that she may run as an independent for the mayoral race of Taipei City – it has, at a minimum, brought greater transparency to the nomination process in the pan-Green camp.
Transparency is important: party-candidate nominations have come under significant criticism in several East and Southeast Asian emergent democracies, including South Korea, the Philippines, and Indonesia, with many viewing the process as the root of corruption in politics. Given the tepid party-identification in these emergent democracies, party-institutionalization needs to balance candidate-centered campaigns that bring popular support – but which are liable to become personality-oriented rather than party-oriented – with party-building efforts that focus on broadening the party-base. Having a clean nomination process is an important step in this process, and should be emphasized as one of these party-building efforts.