This report was written by Irene Chan and Tom Grundy and originally published on HKFP on January 13, 2024. It is published below as part of a content partnership agreement with HKFP.
Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has failed to retain a majority in the Legislative Yuan (parliment) after winning the presidential election. Parties may now seek to link up in order to form a coalition and take control of the chamber.
Over 10 million Taiwanese cast three votes on January 13 — one to elect a leader for the coming four years and the other two to fill the parliament’s 113 seats.
Incumbent Vice-President Lai Ching-te of the DPP won the leadership election following a tight race, receiving 5,586,019 votes — or 40.05 percent of the ballots cast.
With the outgoing Tsai Ing-wen reaching her term limit, Lai has vowed to continue her efforts to strengthen diplomatic and military ties in order to fend off Beijing, which claims the democratic island as its own.
Lai, 64, beat the Kuomintang (KMT) candidate Hou Yu-ih, an ex-police chief who favoured more trade and dialogue with Beijing. Wildcard candidate Ko Wen-je, of the new Taiwan People’s Party (TPP), came in third, having failed to convince enough voters that he presented a fresh and viable alternative for the presidency.
Among the 113 seats at the Legislative Yuan, the DPP won 51 spots, whilst the Beijing-friendly KMT gained 52 places — 14 more seats compared to the current term — and became the largest party in the chamber.
The rising third party, the TPP, gained eight seats, making it a critical minority in the Legislative Yuan.
During a campaign event earlier this year, Lai said that the president and vice president “hold the steering wheel,” but the parliament served as Taiwan’s “engine.” The party should work hard to gain a majority in the parliament to secure “a powerful engine.”
Reduced control for the ruling party
Without control of the Legislative Yuan, it remains to be seen whether the DPP will cooperate with other parties — such as the TPP — to elect the chamber’s next president.
Questions also remain as to whether the KMT and TPP will form a parliamentary coalition to oppose the DPP. The opposition’s efforts to form an electoral alliance last year quickly fell apart.
Amanda Hsiao, senior analyst for China at the International Crisis Group (ICG), told HKFP in an interview prior to the vote that if the DPP failed to gain a legislative majority, there would be more checks on the party over critical policies such as defence: “Both parties [KMT and DPP] are actually campaigning on reforming defence, but it’s unclear how it will play out when they work together and form the opposition to the DPP,” Hsiao said.
Timothy Rich, a political science professor at Western Kentucky University, told HKFP on Saturday that Beijing may use the negotiations to its advantage: “China will likely… increase dialogues with these parties as a sort of wedge. I am concerned that this divide will make defence spending and policies harder, but it might force the administration to focus on domestic issues where there may be more room to compromise.”
Yu-Jie Chen, an assistant research professor at Academia Sinica, said the TPP are now a crucial player: “Both the KMT and DPP view the TPP as a potential coalition partner, essential for securing a legislative majority. In his speech, Lai emphasised ‘unity,’ signalling an openness to dialogue with other political parties and to recruiting talent across the political spectrum for Taiwan’s benefit. While Lai’s gesture of goodwill is notable, the entrenched ideological rifts between the DPP and the KMT that have endured since Taiwan’s democratisation pose significant challenges.”
Under outgoing President Tsai Ing-wen, the DPP enjoyed 64 legislative seats during the current term and 68 during the 2016-2020 term — both a majority.
How legislative members are selected
According to election rules, among the 113 members of the Legislative Yuan, 73 legislators are “district-based,” elected first-past-the-post in constituencies based on geographical areas.
The DPP gained 36 places in the “district-based” election, while the KMT gained 36 seats. Two seats were won by independent candidates. However, the third party, the TPP, was defeated in the district-based election, failing to gain one place.
Another 34 seats are allocated proportionally to each party on a second ballot called the party-list ballot. The election rules require that at least half of each party’s legislators elected on this ballot are women.
The DPP gained 13 places in the party-list election, while the KMT won 13 seats. The TPP secured eight seats.
The remaining six seats are chosen by indigenous people, who account for 2.5 percent of the island’s population, according to official figures.