ArticlePDF Available

The Impact of Electoral System Reform on Taiwan's Local Factions



In 2004, the single non-transferable vote (SNTV) was abolished in Taiwan. The SNTV had long been seen as a major factor in the sustenance of county- and township-level clientelist networks (“local factions”). It was also associated with phenomena such as extremism, candidate-centred politics, vote-buying, clientelism and organized crime involvement in politics. More recent scholarship, however, has led to doubts that a single formal institution like an electoral system could have such a powerful influence on electoral mobilization. This article puts these positions to an initial test. It examines the impact of the electoral reform on the mobilization capacity of a local faction in a rural county notorious for its factionalism. By illuminating its intricate mobilization structures, it provides support for the second position: These structures are too resilient to be affected by even a radical electoral reform.
Journal of
Current Chinese Affairs
China aktuell
Göbel, Christian (2012),
The Impact of Electoral System Reform on Taiwan’s Local Factions, in:
Journal of
Current Chinese Affairs
, 41, 3, 69–92.
ISSN: 1868-4874 (online), ISSN: 1868-1026 (print)
The online version of this article and the other articles can be found at:
Published by
GIGA German Institute of Global and Area Studies, Institute of Asian Studies
in cooperation with the National Institute of Chinese Studies, White Rose East Asia
Centre at the Universities of Leeds and Sheffield and Hamburg University Press.
Journal of Current Chinese Affairs
is an Open Access publication.
It may be read, copied and distributed free of charge according to the conditions of the
Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.
To subscribe to the print edition: <>
For an e-mail alert please register at: <>
Journal of Current Chinese Affairs
is part of the GIGA Journal Family which includes:
Africa Spectrum Journal of Current Chinese Affairs Journal of Current Southeast
Asian Affairs Journal of Politics in Latin America <>
This Taiwan edition has been published and edited in cooperation with the European
Research Center on Contemporary Taiwan (ERCCT) at Eberhard Karls University of
Journal of Current Chinese Affairs 3/2012: 6992
The Impact of Electoral System Reform on
Taiwan’s Local Factions
Christian GÖBEL
Abstract: In 2004, the single non-transferable vote (SNTV) was abol-
ished in Taiwan. The SNTV had long been seen as a major factor in the
sustenance of county- and township-level clientelist networks (“local
factions”). It was also associated with phenomena such as extremism,
candidate-centred politics, vote-buying, clientelism and organized crime
involvement in politics. More recent scholarship, however, has led to
doubts that a single formal institution like an electoral system could have
such a powerful influence on electoral mobilization. This article puts
these positions to an initial test. It examines the impact of the electoral
reform on the mobilization capacity of a local faction in a rural county
notorious for its factionalism. By illuminating its intricate mobilization
structures, it provides support for the second position: These structures
are too resilient to be affected by even a radical electoral reform.
Manuscript received 29 January 2012; accepted 1 July 2012
Keywords: Taiwan, local factions, electoral system reform, electoral
mobilization, clientelism, rural Taiwan
Dr. Christian Göbel is an assistant professor of Chinese Studies at Hei-
delberg University. His current research interests include the political
economy of technological innovation in China and the impact of local
change agents on rural reform trajectories. He is the author of The Politics
of Rural Reform in China (Routledge 2010) and The Politics of Community
Building in Urban China (Routledge 2011, with Thomas Heberer) and has
published numerous papers in journals such as The China Journal, The
China Quarterly, European Political Science, and Politische Vierteljahresschrift
E-mail: <>
70 Christian Göbel
While most countries merely modify existing electoral systems, Taiwan is
one of the very few countries that have accomplished a radical change.
With constitutional amendments passed on 23 August 2004, the Legisla-
tive Yuan (LY) abolished the combination of a single non-transferable
vote in multi-member districts (SNTV-MMD) and closed-list propor-
tional representation for LY elections. The SNTV-MMD was replaced
with a majority system, and the number of legislators was halved from
225 to 113. It was established that from 2008 on, Legislative Yuan elec-
tions were to be held every four years, with 73 legislators elected from
single-member districts, 34 legislators from an open party-list ballot, and
6 legislators from the aboriginal population (see Stockton 2010; Jou
2009; Lin 2006).
These reforms are radical not only for slashing the number of seats
by half, but also because they significantly alter the fashion in which
votes are translated into seats. In an insightful experiment, Hans Stock-
ton assesses this difference by comparing the actual results of the 2008
LY election with a hypothetical outcome based on the old electoral sys-
tem. Not surprisingly, he finds that the new system strengthened the
Nationalist Party (KMT, Kuomintang, Guomindang), transformed the
multi-party system into a two-party system, and increased the dispropor-
tionality of the vote:seat ratio (Stockton 2010; Wu 2008).
Naturally, the real-life impact of electoral reforms is not that
straightforward. Candidates wish to maximize the likelihood of getting
elected, and voters strive to influence electoral results, so both groups
can be expected to adjust their strategies to the new rules of the game
(Cox 1997; Nohlen 2007: 224232). Given the magnitude of change in
Taiwan’s electoral reforms, the strategic adjustments made by parties,
candidates and voters deserve close scholarly attention. Accordingly,
previous studies have focused on important questions such as the impact
of the electoral system change on proportionality, the party system (Jou
2009; Stockton 2010), voter strategy (Batto 2009), and the campaign
strategies of legislative candidates (Sheng 2009).
However, no research currently exists that examines the impact of
electoral reform on Taiwan’s local factions. This is surprising, because
local factions are an integral part of grass-roots electoral mobilization in
Taiwan, and a long tradition of scholarship has linked factionalism to the
SNTV electoral system. As Wu Chung-li aptly points out, not often have
scholars been so unanimously and negatively disposed toward an elec-
Impact on Taiwan’s Local Factions 71
toral system as they have been toward the SNTV (Wu 2002: 46). Schol-
ars largely agreed that the SNTV fostered extremism, lowered inter-party
competition, heightened intra-party competition, and provided incentives
for candidate-centred politics, vote-buying, clientelism and organized
crime involvement in politics (Cox 1996; Cox and Niou 1994; Cox and
Thies 1998; Hsieh 1996, 1999; Wang 1996; Lin 1996; Huang 1997). As a
consequence, many scholars called for a change of the electoral system.
Questioning the idea that the SNTV was indeed the “Pandora’s
box” of low-quality politics the mainstream scholarship portrayed it to
be, Wu developed alternative hypotheses for the origins of the afore-
mentioned ills and argued that the SNTV had not only vices, but also
many virtues. Based on logical reasoning, insights from electoral reform
in Japan, and findings about the determinants of candidate and voter
behaviour in Taiwan, he argued that the problems were not rooted in the
formal electoral system, but in informal practices and the agency of rele-
vant individuals (Wu 2002: 5859).
The 2004 electoral reform provides a good basis on which to test
this contending set of hypotheses. If the SNTV was indeed the chief
institutional source of these problems, then electoral reform should have
a major mitigating impact. On the other hand, if Wu is correct in his
assumption that the roots of these problems lied elsewhere, we would
expect these problems to persist. As it is beyond the scope of this article
to examine all institutions and actors that are relevant for electoral mobi-
lization, I will restrict my focus to how electoral reform has affected the
mobilization capacities of Taiwan’s local factions.
The method of enquiry is a single-case study. In particular, I closely
examine a rural county that has gained notoriety for the strength of its
local factions and the influence of organized crime on politics. In this
respect, this county represents a most likely case (George and Bennett
1 A Faculty Research Grant from the Cultural Division of the Taipei Mission in
Sweden enabled me to conduct the fieldwork for this project. I am grateful also to
Chin Ko-lin, Chao Yung-mao, Kao Yung-kuang, Lin Jih-wen, Wang Yeh-li and Wu
Chung-li for sharing information with me. Huang Sheng-hong and Huang Di-yin
have been most helpful in facilitating my interviews in northern Taiwan. Words
cannot express my heartfelt gratitude to CKS, who made this project possible in the
first place, and to my interview partners, whom I also cannot name, for their trust
and their time. Finally, I am indebted to Gunter Schubert for facilitating a visiting
fellowship at the European Research Center on Contemporary Taiwan, Tübingen
University, and to the two anonymous reviewers for their pertinent insights and
valuable suggestions.
72 Christian Göbel
2005: 121122): If the SNTV indeed strongly benefits local factions, the
impact of electoral reform should be highest where factions are most
entrenched in politics. Most of the information on this rural county was
gathered in interviews conducted in October 2010 with members of the
leadership stratum of the faction in power, heads of subordinate mobili-
zation networks such as the county’s Bureau of Civil Affairs, the former
and the present head of the local irrigation association (
≤࡙Պ, shuilihui),
national and local legislators, a vote-broker (
ẙ㝊, zhuangjiao), as well as a
former acting county commissioner.
As initial findings support Wu’s hypotheses that informal structures
matter more than formal rules for the relevance of local factions, addi-
tional interviews with three vote-brokers and a legislator for a township-
level city were conducted in an urbanized setting to generate additional
evidence by examining these structures in more detail.
Local Factions, the SNTV and Democracy
As a background to the following analysis, this section will briefly explain
what local factions are and how they were integrated into the KMT’s
political machine with the help of the SNTV electoral system. Against
this backdrop, the likely impacts of electoral reform on this machine will
be outlined.
Local Factions in Taiwan’s Politics
Local factions are a vestige of Taiwan’s authoritarian past, where they
first helped the Japanese occupants in the administration of rural Taiwan
and later constituted an integral part of the KMT single-party regime.
They are clientelist networks, and each of Taiwan’s counties and munici-
palities has at least two, sometimes more, local factions, which compete
for local economic and power resources. Factions usually are held to-
gether by ties of blood, kinship and marriage, but also by personal rela-
tionships (Chen 1995: 1618). The KMT made use of local factions by
trading money for support via local-level elections, and political office
opened the door to enormous economic spoils, the lifeblood of any
clientelistic network (Chen and Chu 1992).
In order to get elected, one usually had to be nominated by the
KMT. The party had the organizational means to coordinate votes and
candidates, the financial means to co-finance the costly electoral cam-
Impact on Taiwan’s Local Factions 73
paigns, and the coercive means to deter non-authorized candidates from
standing in a local election. As a consequence, candidates from the vari-
ous local factions competed for the KMT’s nomination, and local alli-
ances against the party were highly unlikely unless the KMT challenged
the factions by filing its own candidates. This exchange mechanism was
backed up by the rigorous enforcement of a policy that forbade factions
to form alliances beyond the county level (Chen 1995). In this way, the
KMT managed the astonishing feat of creating enough support to keep
the party in power for more than 50 years (see Wu 2003 for a concise
English-language introduction of Taiwan’s local factions, and Jacobs
2008 for a lucid argument that the patron–client model is inappropriate
to model factional interaction in Taiwan).
While local factions depended on the KMT, the reverse was also
true. With democratization, the KMT’s reliance on local factions in-
creased even further, because for the first time in its history it had to
compete with other parties in local and national elections. As it could not
afford to pass up the grass-roots support local factions provided, the
collaboration between KMT and those factions continued, even intensi-
fying after Taiwan’s transition to democracy (Göbel 2004). The position
of local factions in Taiwanese politics was further strengthened by the
opening of national-level representative organs to popular elections in
the beginning of the 1990s. As in local elections, the local factions tend-
ed to select the candidates and then present them to the central party for
Scholars have found that candidates supported by local factions are
more likely to win an election than those who lack such support (Chen
1996; Rigger 1999: 82). The realization of this led to a steady increase of
legislators directly hailing from local factions. According to an estimate
by Chu Li-lun, who at the time was a KMT legislator, approximately 60
per cent of all representatives in the fourth Legislative Yuan (1998–2001)
represented local factions (Li 2000: 74). Because the interest of these
legislators was not creating public goods, but securing rents, the legisla-
ture became an arena for clientelist politics. Local factions increased their
political leverage by occupying important legislative commissions, pork-
barreling and engaging in money politics (Göbel 2004). The quality of
legislative politics was generally considered to be low, an impression
corroborated by frequent outbreaks of fisticuffs in Taiwan’s legislature.
74 Christian Göbel
The SNTV and Local Factions
As mentioned above, elections were a central element in the interaction
between the KMT and local factions, and the application of the rather
exotic SNTV system served a clear political purpose. Taiwan inherited
the SNTV from the era of Japanese occupation (Wang 1996; Kuo 1999).
Of the previously 225 seats in Taiwan’s LY, 168 were filled in multi-
member districts, and 8 seats each were reserved for Taiwan’s native
population and Taiwanese citizens who live overseas. Forty-one seats
were proportionally assigned according to an open party-list vote. As for
the first ballot, the electorate filled between one and twelve (or even
more) seats in each of the 29 electoral districts. Each voter could cast
one vote for one candidate only. Votes were not transferable, and seats
were filled according to the “first-past-the-post” system, meaning that a
list was made for every district that listed candidates in order of number
of votes received. If a district had ten seats, each of the top ten candi-
dates received one seat (Hsieh 1996: 195).
A general rule for majority systems is that the more seats there are
in one district, the more proportional the ratio between votes and seats
should be (Wang 1996: 199). In reality, however, the vote:seat ratio could
be very disproportional, especially in large districts with charismatic legis-
lators. The 1992 LY elections provide a good example: In Taibei County,
the threshold to obtain a seat was 38,845 votes. However, as the top
candidates received up to 235,000 votes, the threshold was significantly
lowered for the remaining candidates (Wu 1995: 82). As this example
shows, the SNTV benefitted small parties and even individual candidates
(and is thus considered minority-friendly), but forced big parties to avoid
the concentration of votes in popular candidates.
Thus, the incentives provided by this system at first might seem
paradoxical: A candidate had to prevent himself from getting too many
votes, lest he take away votes from candidates of his own party. The
pool of votes one party could get had to be somehow divided between a
suitable number of candidates. The consequence was that each party had
to know approximately how many votes it could get in an election, had
to nominate just enough candidates, and had to ensure that each candi-
date received a similar number of votes. In order to ensure that these
conditions were met, the KMT, but later also the Democratic Progres-
sive Party (DPP), made use of the local factions introduced above, which
in turn utilized vote-brokers to mobilize and allocate votes. Vote-brokers
served as a link between the candidate and the voters and made use of
Impact on Taiwan’s Local Factions 75
political campaigns, personal relationships, the mobilization of employ-
ees, and vote-buying (Rigger 1994).
Against this backdrop, it is not difficult to see why the SNTV was
believed to have benefitted local factions and to have promoted vote-
buying. Gregory Noble even regarded the SNTV as a systemic reason for
brawls in the Legislative Yuan (Noble 1999: 104).
Expected Impact of Electoral Reforms
Radical reforms can be expected to lead to radical changes in the political
landscape, and Taiwan is no exception. As explained in the introduction,
electoral reforms effect changes at different levels, and the most immedi-
ate changes result from the alteration of proportionality to majority vote
and the reduction of seats. As was also pointed out, candidates and vot-
ers are aware of the likely impact of technical changes and change their
campaign and voting strategies accordingly. They learn to play by the
new rules in a way that maximizes their personal benefit. Based on the
discussion of the SNTV just provided, I will now briefly outline which
behavioural changes electoral systems theory would predict. In theory,
electoral reform toward a first-past-the-post system should affect all four
features associated with the SNTV: intra-party competition, extremism,
factionalism and vote-buying.
As opposed to multi-member districts such as in the SNTV, polit-
ical parties will nominate only one carefully selected candidate in single-
member districts, as is the case with the new electoral system. Intra-party
competition is relegated from the elections to the party primaries, and
electoral candidates will campaign on a platform that combines district-
specific issues with the general party platform. To win as the candidate
of a minority party or even as an independent candidate is far more diffi-
cult than under the SNTV, because more than half of all eligible voters
must be persuaded to vote for the candidate in question. An important
intervening variable, as Wu Chung-li is correct to point out, is the size of
electoral districts (Wu 2002: 5253), but the halving of seats seems to
have made districts sufficiently large to prevent minority parties or inde-
pendent candidates from gaining a foothold. The fact that small parties
and independent legislators nearly disappeared after the reform seems to
confirm this (Stockton 2010).
Relatedly, the new electoral system in theory removes the incentives
for candidates and parties to appeal to extremist voters. In order to win
the majority of votes in a district, the candidates need to present posi-
76 Christian Göbel
tions acceptable to the majority of voters. Hence, first-past-the-post
promotes moderate campaign agendas (Adams 1996). For the same rea-
sons, we should expect electoral reform to exert a negative influence on
local factionalism as well. Given the power of the major parties to file
individual candidates, the latter can be expected to adhere to the party
platform instead of the particularist influence of local factions. Indeed,
first-past-the-post should incite parties to nominate those candidates
who convincingly represent their party and to get rid of members of
local factions who are primarily interested in making a profit.
Finally, electoral reform should make vote-buying obsolete. In the
SNTV, a small number of votes was frequently enough to tip the balance
in favour of a particular candidate, and strategic vote-buying could pro-
vide just the amount of critical votes needed. This incentive disappears in
(large) single-member districts, unless both parties are nearly equally
strong. As mentioned above, the reduction in seats makes it even more
difficult for parties and candidates to assess voter preferences and identi-
fy swing voters because the ratio between voters and candidates increas-
es. On a related note, this increase also means that each candidate would
have to buy far more votes than before. Seen from a systemic perspec-
tive, the necessity for political parties to cooperate with local factions
should disappear, and the influence of local factions in the electoral pro-
cess should also vanish in consequence.
The Social Embeddedness of Factional
The upshot of the hypothetical effects of the change in electoral rules
just described is that if the SNTV was indeed the “Pandora’s box” schol-
ars portrayed it to be, Taiwan’s electoral reform should seriously harm
local factions, if not dispense with them altogether. On the other hand, if
informal structures and personal characteristics are as important as – or
even more important than – the SNTV in sustaining factional politics,
then the local factions would have to adapt to the changes but would not
be threatened by them. In the remainder of this article, these hypotheses
will be tested by means of an in-depth analysis of the impact of the re-
form on the mobilization capacities of Taiwan’s local factions. As out-
lined in the introduction to this article, a most likely case was chosen as
an object of study, and the findings are contrasted with a least likely case:
Impact on Taiwan’s Local Factions 77
an urbanized county-level district in northern Taiwan where positions
should prevail over persons in voter mobilization.
The findings of this exercise support Wu’s hypotheses and call into
question the assumption that the SNTV was the root cause of factional
politics in Taiwan. They illustrate that the impact of electoral reform is
overestimated, while the standing power of informal mobilization net-
works is underestimated. Arguably, this is the result of a blind spot of
existing scholarship, whose focus has mainly been on the relationship
between local factions and the political centre. Far less attention has
been devoted to the relationship between local factions and the general
How do local factions mobilize their constituencies? The conven-
tional understanding in the research literature is that factions and voters
are connected via vote-brokers who mobilize votes for local factions. It
is understood that each faction has several vote-brokers hailing from
very different backgrounds, which are tied to the voters by means of
guanxi (
ޣ㌫) – affective relations or “connections” (Bosco 1992). Shelly
Rigger makes the very useful distinction between “office-holding”, “so-
cial”, and “association-based” vote-brokers, who each operate in differ-
ent spheres of influence and with different methods, including undertak-
ing political campaigns, utilizing and offering personal relationships,
mobilizing employees, and buying votes (Rigger 1994: 167172, 9498).
The literature leaves unclear, however, how vote-brokers are recruited
and how the number of vote-brokers each faction has at its disposal is
determined. The underlying assumption seems to be that the recruitment
of vote-brokers is a process highly contingent on both the local context
and the intensity with which members of local factions maintain or ex-
tend their guanxi networks. If this assumption is correct, it follows that
local factions will be severely weakened if the nodes of such networks –
usually the leadership circle of a local faction – die, leave the faction, or
are imprisoned.
The field research I conducted in the rural Taiwanese county shows
that the networks within which local factions mobilize voters are far
more institutionalized than previously assumed. It furthermore reveals
the patrimonial character of factional networks. They were organized
around not only key persons, but also key political organizations (see
below). The mobilization of voters is a similar process for each of the
organizations. Persons who are higher in the organizational or social
hierarchy mobilize persons lower in the hierarchy, who then “pull the
78 Christian Göbel
votes” (᣹⾘, lapiao) of their respective constituencies. For example,
higher-level officials in the farmers’ or irrigation associations visit lower-
level officials and influential community members at home to convince
them to mobilize for a specific legislator. In this process, they supply
them with the arguments that can then be presented to the next lower
level. These arguments range from specific material benefits promised by
a legislator in the case of his (re-)election to unspecific future rewards
and affective factors (“He is a really nice person”). In this process, use is
made of organizational resources such as budgetary allocations, special
construction funds, the extension of credit, or promises of future re-
wards to motivate voters to cast their vote for a specific candidate.
Hence, formal politics and clientelism blend into each other in the fash-
ion that is characteristic for neopatrimonial structures.
The following sections will illustrate that vote mobilization is a very
systematic process within these organizations, and that several of these
organizations are interlinked and form an impressive political machine in
which local factions play a key role. This becomes clear from the way in
which the members of the faction under study classified their mobiliza-
tion structures.
Mobilization Systems
As a key informant points out, different spheres of influence in the polit-
ical, economic and social realms are divided into various “systems” (
xitong), which can be best understood as clearly defined functional arenas
in which mobilization takes place.
The political realm encompasses the administrative apparatus, the
(KMT) party organizations, and the national and local legislatures.
“Money machines” like the farmers’ and fishermen’s associations belong
to the economic realm, as does the influential irrigation association. In
the social realm, finally, support is mobilized in schools and civil society
organizations. Most important for local factions are the first six xitong,
which are elected, endowed with public funds, and replicated at all ad-
ministrative levels. Accordingly, local factions seek to “control” (
zhangwo) these organizations. This is different for the other xitong, where
influence is not absolute, but can only be extended by gaining influence
in individual organizations (such as public or military schools, alumni
associations, parents, and teachers’ associations) (Anonymous 1 2010).
Hence, the classification of spheres of influence into different xitong is
not merely a heuristic typology, but serves the leadership of local fac-
Impact on Taiwan’s Local Factions 79
tions to both measure and strategically extend factional influence. For
example, the loss of one xitong can be compensated by the gain of an-
other while the loss of two crucial xitong can spell the end for a faction
even if the leadership remains in place and their personal ties intact
(Anonymous 2 2010).
Another crucial finding is the patrimonial character of these xitong.
In contrast to pure guanxi networks, which transcend political hierar-
chies, the xitong are structured by institutional as well as personalistic
factors. Personal guanxi is the glue that links these xitong with each other.
The result is a guanxi network that is intermeshed with political organiza-
tions but at the same time transcends these organizations. For example,
the irrigation xitong can also mobilize support for candidates in presiden-
tial, legislative and gubernatorial elections. Conversely, the administrative
and legislative xitong persuades voters to cast their ballot for a specific
candidate in irrigation association elections. As I will show below, the
leaders of these xitong play a crucial role in facilitating these processes.
These leaders, however, are not indispensable. In the rural county where
I conducted my fieldwork, the former head of the irrigation association,
who enjoyed great respect in his community and had a very wide social
network, fell out with the dominant faction. As a result, he lost his re-
election bid despite his considerable experience, charisma and social
capital to a young and relatively unknown newcomer.
It is necessary to describe in greater detail the administrative xitong
and the three xitong that provide services for farmers due to their rele-
vance for the case at hand. In addition, this description serves to illus-
trate the hierarchical and patrimonial character of voter mobilization.
The administrative xitong encompasses the county-level bureaus, the
township-level mayors and administrative offices (
ޜᡰ, gongsuo), and the
neighbourhood wardens (
䛫䮯, linzhang) and village chiefs (ᶁ䟼䮯, cun-
lizhang). Elections are held for all these offices, giving each unit a degree
of independence from the higher unit. Accordingly, all county-level fac-
tions strive to control as many townships as possible. It helps in this
quest that the township-level administrations heavily depend on transfer
payments from the county government, as their own revenue is not
enough to meet their expenditures.
The neighbourhood wardens and village chiefs have a peculiar posi-
tion in this xitong, an important detail that the literature has so far ne-
glected: The institution of village and neighbourhood wardens is a relict
from the time of the Japanese occupation, where wardens were respon-
80 Christian Göbel
sible for the security of a neighbourhood. Today, their function mainly
lies in mediating conflicts on the neighbourhood level. Despite their long
history, these institutions are far from old-fashioned; indeed, they are in
line with modern, communitarian ideas of societal self-government
(Etzioni 1968). Solving conflicts without state involvement, it is believed,
not only unburdens the government, but also strengthens the local
Accordingly, neighbourhood wardens tend to be respected and
trusted members of the community, and it is in line with this demand
that they are elected in the neighbourhoods they will serve. Their social
capital and their control of budgetary resources gives them considerable
influence over voting behaviour, especially of those persons with a long
history in the village or neighbourhood. The main difference to the
township chiefs, however, is that the county-level Bureau for Civil Af-
fairs (BCA,
≁᭯ተ, minzhengju) directly allocates all funding for village
and neighbourhood affairs. Thus, the county can bypass the townships
when dealing with the village chiefs and neighbourhood wardens, giving
it additional leverage over these grass-roots institutions. In fact, as a
former head of the BCA explains, much of his time in office was spent
touring the countryside and meeting with village wardens to mobilize
votes for his faction (Anonymous 3 2010).
Farmers’ and fishermen’s associations have often been associated
with corruption, because the chairmanship gave local factions discretion
over the credit departments of these organizations (Chen and Chu 1992:
8990). In the initial years after democratization, low levels of transpar-
ency and lax supervision had made credit manipulation easy, causing a
steady increase in the rate of overdue loans (Chiu 2000: 102). These or-
ganizations provide, besides rents, an excellent infrastructure for elec-
toral mobilization. The farmers’ association is unique in that its organiza-
tion covers not only the county and township levels, but via its branches
also the village level. In the county in question, more than 100,000 fami-
lies were members of the farmers’ association, roughly half of all families
in the county (Anonymous 4 2010). The reach of the fishermen’s associ-
ation is somewhat smaller, because farmers outnumber fishermen in
most counties. Still, it is a force to be reckoned with – in the rural county
under study, it had more than 30,000 members.
Stricter supervision, new laws and the DPP administration’s anti-
corruption policies have rendered blatant corruption in the legislatures
and the farmers’ and fishermen’s associations difficult. In the county
Impact on Taiwan’s Local Factions 81
where I conducted my field research, this seems to have increased the
relative importance of the irrigation association xitong. In organizational
terms, the hierarchical structure of the irrigation association is also very
suitable for purposes of mobilization: Each county-level unit commands
work stations (
ᐕ֌ㄉ, gongzuozhan) at the township level and below,
which in turn supervise various functional and territorial groups (
xiaozu). Each group consists of several subdivisions. Combined with a
very significant membership density (every fourth inhabitant of the
county is a member of the IA), this organization is a powerful machine
for generating votes (Anonymous 5 2010). Although it does not pene-
trate rural society as deep as the farmers’ association, it is a more effec-
tive instrument for mobilizing voters in county and national elections. In
contrast to the county-level farmers’ and fishermen’s associations, which
merely have the power to “guide” (
ᤷሬ, zhidao) the affairs of subordi-
nate organizations, the relationship between the irrigation association
and its local units is one of command (Anonymous 6 2010).
It should be added that the constellation between the three farmers’
xitong just presented might be particular to the county in which I con-
ducted my field research, where the irrigation association had long been
headed by a very well-connected individual. In other counties, the farm-
ers’ association might still be more powerful. Still, the mechanisms of
voter mobilization and the interrelationship between the xitong should be
How the Xitong Interrelate
As implied above, these xitong operate independent of each other, but are
interlinked by personal relations at all levels. Therefore, each xitong can
be used to mobilize support for elections taking place in the other xitong,
and the key persons at each administrative level are in close contact with
their counterparts at other levels (Anonymous 4 2010). Most crucial for
this to work, however, is that these xitong are controlled by the same
faction. Interestingly, the linchpin that holds the system in place is not
political office, but personal relations: Prior to 2005, the head of the
faction served as county commissioner and effectively controlled the
administrative xitong. The leaders of three other xitong were connected to
him either by blood or by close friendship: The head of the provincial
farmers’ association was his brother-in-law, his sister served as a legisla-
tor, his “sworn brother” (
ᤌݴᕏ, baixiongdi) headed the irrigation associ-
ation, the son of his sworn brother held another legislative seat, and his
82 Christian Göbel
close friend was the speaker of the county assembly (Anonymous 2
Since then, the county has seen some changes: The county commis-
sioner has been replaced, but there are strong indications that the domi-
nant faction supported the campaign of the new commissioner and
therefore retained much influence in the administrative xitong. A number
of bureau chiefs and more than half of all townships remain loyal to the
dominant faction. In the legislative xitong, the most important change is
that the seat previously held by the commissioner’s sister is now held by
his daughter, and that another seat was captured by the opposition (see
below). Finally, the irrigation association is no longer controlled by his
sworn brother, but by a relative of his godfather (Anonymous 7 2010).
As these sections have shown, electoral mobilization by local fac-
tions happens in networks that are far more organized than the existing
literature suggests. Horizontally, these networks are divided into differ-
ent “systems”. Vertically, each of these “systems” can be subdivided into
different levels, encompassing the apex of the faction, the leadership
stratum, township-level political leaders, their subordinates, and finally
the vote-brokers at the grass-roots level. This mobilization machine was
highly effective, and it is no exaggeration to state that the overwhelming
proportion of the county’s voters was in direct contact with at least one
of the xitong. In fact, it was common for one person to be associated
with two or more xitong. As the following sections will show, these struc-
tures were resilient enough to withstand even an electoral system change
as radical as the one implemented in 2004. The case will be made by
investigating the impact of electoral reform on two of the most im-
portant xitong in national-level elections: the irrigation association and the
administrative xitong.
Service Associations in Rural Taiwan
In order to assess the impact of electoral reforms on the mobilization
activities conducted by the irrigation association, interviews were con-
ducted with a former head of the provincial irrigation association and the
present head of the irrigation association in the county in which I under-
took my field research.
I was surprised that both of the aforementioned people seemed
puzzled by my introductory question: What was the impact of electoral
reform on the mobilization capacity of local factions? When confronted
Impact on Taiwan’s Local Factions 83
with the specifics – the reduction in legislative seats and the change to
first-past-the-post – the interviewees stated independently from each
other that electoral reforms surely necessitated adjustments, but did not
affect the factions’ abilities to mobilize (Anonymous 8 2010; Anonymous
5 2010). In effect, it became clear that this hypothesis was premised on
the assumption that there was a systemic need under the SNTV for the
irrigation association to be involved in electoral mobilization, and that
this need disappeared with the new electoral system. Seen from the per-
spective of the voters, this hypothesis assumes that the voters regarded
factional mobilization as a necessary evil and would embrace partisan
politics once given the chance.
As the head of the county’s irrigation association points out, how-
ever, this hypothesis neglects the fact that his organization enjoys a high
degree of legitimacy among its members, and that the political advice of
its functionaries carries much weight in the opinion formation of the
voters. Like most other interviewees, he felt the need to elaborate on the
ingredients of successful political mobilization, and criticized as too utili-
tarian the simplistic understanding that voters need to be given either
money (vote-buying) or an attractive political agenda (partisan politics).
In his view, both elements play a role in electoral mobilization, but nei-
ther a dominant one. The most important element, he stressed, was
building up affective relations (
ᝏᛵ, ganqing) with the constituency –
visiting them, showing them respect and making them feel important
(Anonymous 5 2010).
An anecdote relayed by the former head of the national irrigation
association illustrates this strategy well. He was in office when Lee Teng-
hui (Li Denghui) campaigned to be re-elected in the first direct presiden-
tial elections in 1996, so it fell to him to mobilize support for Lee in his
xitong. One crucial element, he claimed, was a photo op he arranged with
Lee. He placed Lee on a chair, and more than 300 heads of all local irri-
gation associations were invited to “take a picture with the president”.
The photo each functionary obtained provided an incentive to mobilize
support for Lee and thereby increase the social value of the picture, and
the event gave Lee the chance to exchange a few words with each of the
participants. The fact that Lee was charismatic, unassuming and know-
ledgeable about agricultural issues played to his advantage, and it was not
difficult to convince them to get the votes in for Lee (Anonymous 8
84 Christian Göbel
Where does this legitimacy come from? The head of the county’s ir-
rigation association stressed that although the association does not have
a credit department like the farmers’ and fishermen’s associations and
therefore cannot make strategic loans to “buy” the votes of a constituen-
cy, it nevertheless has great influence. He reasoned that his organization
was even more influential than the farmers’ association:
It is true that the farmers’ organizations can use their credit depart-
ments to mobilize support, which we cannot. Still, we are more power-
ful, because all peasants depend on the water we deliver (Anonymous
5 2010).
In reality, however, this difference in influence does not matter much,
because both organizations work for the KMT, and the membership
overlap is considerable: The membership overlap exceeds 80 per cent
(Anonymous 8 2010).
Three aspects are of importance when explaining the influence of
the irrigation association on local voting behaviour. First, the peasants
are highly dependent on its services and tend to support recommended
candidates if they are satisfied with the services rendered. It is not diffi-
cult to understand that an organization on which the peasants’ livelihood
depends commands trust and support if it performs well. Second, the
former head of the provincial irrigation association stresses that the
members of his organization are “regarded as heroes”. They are respect-
ed for the hard work they do in maintaining and repairing the waterways,
and often work side by side with the peasants. The job is hard and can
be dangerous – especially during typhoons, when the workers need to
leave their homes to repair damaged infrastructure. Thus, an element of
charisma is added to the performance factor described above (Anony-
mous 8 2010). Finally, the peasants’ dependence on water allowed the
association to punish deviant behaviour: If a locality supported a rival
candidate, fewer or slower services could be provided (Anonymous 5
Given the organization’s scope, its social standing and its large
number of members, the irrigation association has maintained its influ-
ence even under the new rules, as its leaders claim. The head of the
county’s irrigation association claims to have more than 3,000 vote-
brokers, of which “80 to 90 per cent” could be counted on to mobilize
votes for “any candidate I specify, no matter which party he comes from.
If I say one candidate must be supported, then he will be supported”
(Anonymous 5 2010).
Impact on Taiwan’s Local Factions 85
The fact that the former head of the irrigation association lost his
re-election bid does not contradict this: among others, his electoral de-
feat was caused by a loss of support from the other xitong.
In this light, it does not make a difference if support is generated for
one or for several candidates. One could even say that mobilization has
become easier, because there is no need anymore to apportion a specific
number of votes to a given candidate. On the other hand, however, the
official pointed out that the new system incited him to rely mainly on the
“carrots” of providing good service to all constituents, and that it would
not be expedient to use the “sticks” of discriminatory service provision
anymore if a particular district did not vote for the prescribed candidate.
This not only is due to the fact that one candidate’s excessive gain is no
longer the KMT’s loss, but is also owed stricter laws and tighter super-
vision than before (Anonymous 8 2010).
The results of the 2008 election seem to prove the interviewees
right. In both electoral districts, members of the core group of the dom-
inant faction were elected with comfortable majorities. Given that it was
the first time for one of the legislators to stand for political office, and
that all the legislators had limited political experience and lacked charis-
ma, it is not difficult to see that factional influence remained strong. This
is further corroborated by the fact that the KMT chose to not let a cer-
tain core member of the rival faction, who controlled the party xitong,
compete with the newcomers, because he was certain to lose. A final test
is the result of a by-election for a vacated seat in the Legislative Yuan, in
which both factions remained neutral. Neither the non-factional candi-
date nominated by the KMT nor an independent local heavyweight
emerged victorious.
Neighbourhood Wardens in Urban Taiwan
Similar to the irrigation association, the administrative xitong is entrench-
ed deeply enough in local society to withstand the impacts of electoral
reform. As pointed out above, the central role of neighbourhood war-
dens and village chiefs as vote-brokers has so far been under-research-
ed, so special attention will be given to their role in electoral mobiliza-
tion. In the rural county under observation, much that has been said
about the social capital of members of the irrigation association is also
true for village chiefs (Anonymous 9 2010). In fact, the findings so far
86 Christian Göbel
suggest that the social embeddedness of the various xitong in rural society
is so deep that electoral reform hardly affected them.
The fact that the KMT’s support network is so deeply embedded in
rural society is of course acknowledged by its largest opposition party,
the DPP. Indeed, observers differentiate between the organization-based
campaigning of the KMT and the issue-based campaigning of the DPP.
In legislative elections (national and local), the KMT is seen to chiefly
rely on the networks described in this paper, while the DPP allegedly
identifies hot topics that appeal to its voters. Hsiao Bi-khim (Xiao Mei-
qin), an advisor to DPP presidential candidate Tsai Ying-wen (Cai
Yingwen), confirms that her party’s strategy is to especially target young
and urban voters, as it sees itself unable to defeat the KMT in an organi-
zational battle (Anonymous 10 2010).
I expected this strategy to be replicated at the urban neighbourhood
level, and conducted additional interviews with members of a support
network affiliated with the DPP in an urbanized setting in northern Tai-
wan that displayed very weak local factions. However, the mechanisms I
encountered there were very similar to those that local factions used to
mobilize voters in the countryside. A former legislator of a township-
level city in northern Taiwan explained that it is more the political cul-
ture of the voters than the electoral system that influences how certain
constituencies are mobilized. Specifically, this difference in cultures mani-
fests itself in the rootedness of a person in the neighbourhood: While
people with a long history in the neighbourhood tend to be susceptible
to being approached and lobbied for a certain candidate, newcomers are
difficult to mobilize on such a private basis. They are reluctant to be
instrumentalized, especially if they are well educated and young. Such
people tend to form their own opinions and are not susceptible to per-
suasion, not least because they do not want to be part of the local com-
munity – frequently, they have both their work and their social life in the
city centre, come home only to rest, and value their privacy. They tend to
regard contact attempts as a nuisance and often refuse to open the door
if the wardens come to visit (Anonymous 11 2010).
The story is different with long-term residents, and again, such sup-
port is not necessarily about exchanging money for favours. According
to the legislator, the funds she and the wardens receive are used for
community projects. Although it is mainly the supporters who profit
from these funds, everybody belonging to a specific spatial or functional
group can profit from these expenditures: If a neighbourhood play-
Impact on Taiwan’s Local Factions 87
ground is built, all parents can send their children there. In contrast to
vote-buying, which satisfies individual interests, such projects target
group-based interests. This, however, does not mean that individual
interests do not matter. As in rural Taiwan, support is generated by es-
tablishing affective relations. Describing their work, three neighbour-
hood wardens explained that they aimed not only to keep existing sup-
porters happy, but also to generate new ones:
When we enter the living room of a new neighbour, we take a careful
look around. What newspaper does he read? If we see that he sup-
ports the KMT, we exchange a few courtesies and quickly leave. If
someone supports the DPP, we try to keep him happy. Those that are
neutral we try to win over by explaining to them what they can expect
from the candidate. Frequently, we even take the candidate to indi-
vidual households, be it as a reward for received support, or to per-
suade those who are undecided. To be visited by a legislator shows
people that they are important (Anonymous 12 2010).
Similar to the mechanisms of electoral mobilization with the help of
xitong in rural Taiwan, people belonging to different political realms also
interact with each other in urban settings. Another similarity is the cen-
tral role of elections in this process: The wardens support the legislator
in his/ her campaign by lobbying for him/ her in their neighbourhood
and introducing him/ her to residents. In turn, the legislator also sup-
ports the wardens ideationally and financially. This is important because
elections are a costly affair even at the neighbourhood level. Leaflets to
introduce the candidate and his/ her political positions need to be print-
ed, and often the candidates give away small presents like ballpoint pens
or, more frequently, paper towels, which allow for more information on
the surface. In addition, people need to be hired to distribute the materi-
al. As one candidate confides, his campaign costs added up to approxi-
mately 30,000 TWD. As most of the wardens earn low to medium wag-
es, this is a considerable investment. If he receives a certain percentage
of votes, he will receive compensation for each vote and can recuperate
his costs; otherwise, the investment will be lost (Anonymous 12 2010).
In this research location it also became apparent that electoral re-
form did not change the mechanisms and strategies applied in grass-
roots mobilization. As in rural Taiwan, the support that went to several
candidates is now provided to only one candidate. What does seem to
effect a change in how voters need to be mobilized are structural altera-
tions like urbanization, modernization and social mobility.
88 Christian Göbel
The mainstream literature used to closely associate the SNTV with the
considerable influence of local factions in Taiwan’s politics. In addition,
the SNTV was made responsible for a number of related ills marring
electoral mobilization in Taiwan. Sceptics doubted this and suggested
that these problems were rooted in a number of entrenched informal
institutions and could not be solved by an electoral reform.
The case studies presented in this article support the view of the
sceptics. In rural areas (and presumably also in traditional urban neigh-
bourhoods), local factions managed to entrench themselves deeply
enough in local society to not be affected by electoral reform. It is a
noteworthy finding that personal guanxi is not the only mechanism that
connects local factions to voters. Personal relations and connections do
of course matter, but they are interwoven with a number of mobilization
structures (xitong) that penetrate a multitude of political, economic and
societal sub-systems. Hence, factions and voters are connected in an
intricate patrimonial network where voters are approached by actors of
at least one xitong, if not several.
Although most of these structures were created during authoritari-
anism, they not only survived democratization, but even prospered in the
new, more liberal climate. It became necessary for the DPP, which dur-
ing authoritarianism stood outside these networks, to create its own
network of vote-brokers, if not its own local factions. The SNTV facili-
tated these processes but was not the linchpin that held the political
machine in place. In other words, the influence of the electoral system
on factional politics has been overestimated, while the staying power of
these networks has been underestimated.
Another perspective supports this conclusion. The article has shown
that the influence of local factions is waning in some locations, as is the
personalist mode of mobilization. Once again, the main reason for this
development does not lie in the electoral system. Rather, urbanization
and modernization make it difficult for vote-brokers to establish affec-
tive relations with voters. These processes take time, which people often
do not have, and many young and educated people are not easily attract-
ed by the paternalism that often characterizes the relationship between
vote captains and voters.
It follows that personalist campaigning is likely to remain strong in
rural areas and in traditional urban neighbourhoods, both of which re-
Impact on Taiwan’s Local Factions 89
present fertile breeding grounds for local factions. However, their influ-
ence will be reduced as Taiwan continues to urbanize and modernize.
Adams, Greg D. (1996), Legislative Effects of Single-Member vs. Multi-
Member Districts, in: American Journal of Political Science, 40, 1,
Anonymous 1 (2010), Interview, informant close to the dominant fac-
tion, Taibei, 15 October.
Anonymous 2 (2010), Interview, informant close to the dominant fac-
tion, rural Taiwan, 4 October.
Anonymous 3 (2010), Interview, former head of local BCA, rural Tai-
wan, 10 October.
Anonymous 4 (2010), Interview, county legislator, rural Taiwn, 9 Octo-
Anonymous 5 (2010), Interview, head of the county irrigation associa-
tion, rural Taiwan, 8 October.
Anonymous 6 (2010), Interview, head of the county irrigation associa-
tion, rural Taiwan, 19 October.
Anonymous 7 (2010), Interview, godfather, rural Taiwan, 19 October.
Anonymous 8 (2010), Interview, former head of provincial irrigation
association, rural Taiwan, 22 October.
Anonymous 9 (2010), Interview, vote broker, rural Taiwan, 20 October.
Anonymous 10 (2010), Interview, Hsiao Bi-kim, Taibei, 13 October.
Anonymous 11 (2010), Interview, township-level city legislator, North-
ern Taiwan, 13 October.
Anonymous 12 (2010), Interview, three township-level city vote-brokers,
Northern Taiwan, 13 October.
Batto, Nathan F. (2009), Change and Continuity in the Personal Vote
after Electoral Reform in Taiwan, in: Issues & Studies, 45, 2, 99123.
Bosco, Joseph (1992), Taiwan Factions. Guanxi, Patronage, and the State
in Local Politics, in: Ethnology, 31, 2, 157183.
Chen, Ming-tung (1996), Local Factions and Elections in Taiwan’s De-
mocratization, in: Hung-mao Tien (ed.), Taiwan’s Electoral Politics and
Democratic Transition: Riding the Third Wave, Armonk, London: M. E.
Sharpe, 174192.
Chen, Ming-tung (1995),
⍮㌫᭯⋫оਠ⒮᭯⋫ਈ䗱 (Paixi zhengzhi yu
Taiwan zhengzhi bianqian, Factional Politics and Taiwan’s Political Develop-
ment), Taibei: Yuedan.
90 Christian Göbel
Chen, Ming-tung, and Yun-han Chu (1992), ४ฏᙗ㚄ਸ⤜ঐ㓿⍾ǃൠᯩ
19501986 (Quyuxing lianhe duzhan jingji, difang paixi yu shengyi-
yuan xuanju: yi xiang shengyiyuan houxuanren beijing ciliao de fen-
xi, 1950-1986, Regional Oligopolistic Economy, Local Factions, and
Provincial Assembly Elections: An Analysis of the Socio-economic
Background of Candidates, 19501986), in: Proceedings of the National
Science Council C, Social Sciences and Humanities, 2, 1, 8990.
Chin, Ko-Lin (2003), Heijin: Organized Crime, Business, and Politics in Tai-
wan, Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe.
Chiu, Hua-mei (2000),
䘿㿲唁䠁ޣײ (Touguan heijin guanxi, Seeing
Trough Black Gold Relationships), in:
ཙлᵲᘇ (Tianxia Zazhi,
Tianxia Monthly), 224, 98104.
Cox, Gary W. (1997), Making Votes Count: Strategic Coordination in the
World’s Electoral Systems, Cambridge, UK, New York: Cambridge
University Press.
Cox, Gary W. (1996), Is the Single Nontransferable Vote Superpropor-
tional? Evidence from Japan and Taiwan, in: American Journal of Polit-
ical Science, 40, 3, 740755.
Cox, Gary W., and Emerson Niou (1994), Seat Bonuses under the Single
Nontransferable Vote System: Evidence from Japan and Taiwan, in:
Comparative Politics, 26, 2, 221236.
Cox, Gary W., and Michael F. Thies (1998), The Cost of Intraparty
Competition: The Single, Nontransferable Vote and Money Politics
in Taiwan, in: Comparative Political Studies, 31, 3, 267291.
Etzioni, Amitai (1968), The Active Society, New York: The Free Press.
George, Alexander L., and Andrew Bennett (2005), Case Studies and Theo-
ry Development in the Social Sciences, Cambridge: MIT Press.
Göbel, Christian (2004), Beheading the Hydra: Combating Corruption
and Organised Crime in the KMT and DPP Eras, in: China Perspec-
tives, 56, 1425.
Hsieh, John Fuh-sheng (1999), Manipulating the Electoral System under
the SNTV: The Case of the Republic of China on Taiwan, in: Ber-
nard Grofmann, Chull Lee Sung, Ewin Winkler, and Brian Woodall
(eds), Elections in Japan, Korea and Taiwan under the Single Non-
Transferable Vote. The Comparative Study of an Embedded Institution, Ann
Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 6584.
Hsieh, John Fuh-sheng (1996), The SNTV System and Its Political Im-
plications, in: Hung-mao Tien (ed.), Taiwan’s Electoral Politics and
Impact on Taiwan’s Local Factions 91
Democratic Transition: Riding the Third Wave, Armonk: M. E. Sharpe,
Huang, Teh-fu (1997), Party Systems in Taiwan and South Korea, in:
Larry Diamond et al. (eds), Consolidating the Third Wave Democracies:
Themes and Perspectives, Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University
Press, 144–147.
Jacobs, Bruce J. (2008), Local Politics in Rural Taiwan under Dictatorship and
Democracy, Norwalk, CT: EastBridge.
Jou, Willy (2009), Electoral Reform and Party System Development in
Japan and Taiwan, in: Asian Survey, 49, 5, 759785.
Kuo, Cheng-tien (1999), The Origins of State-Local Relations in Taiwan:
A New Institutionalist Perspective, in: Issues & Studies, 35, 6, 2958.
Li, Mingxuan (2000),
ᥓ䫡ཪᵳ˖␧ᡈ・⌅䲒(Zheng qian duo quan:
hunzhan Lifayuan, Earn Money to Seize Power: Tangled Warfare in
the Lifayuan), in:
ཙлᵲᘇ (Tianxia Zazhi, Tianxia Monthly), 235,
Lin, Jih-wen (2006), The Politics of Reform in Japan and Taiwan, in:
Journal of Democracy, 17, 2, 118131.
Lin, Jih-wen (1996), Consequences of the Single Nontransferable Vote Rule.
Comparing the Japan and Taiwan experiences, PhD dissertation, Los An-
geles: University of California.
Noble, Gregory W. (1999), Opportunity Lost: Partisan Incentives and
the 1997 Constitutional Revisions in Taiwan, in: The China Journal,
41, 89114.
Nohlen, Dieter (2007), Wahlrecht und Parteiensystem: über die politischen Aus-
wirkungen von Wahlsystemen, Opladen: Leske and Budrich.
Rigger, Shelley (1999), Politics in Taiwan: Voting for Democracy, London,
New York: Routledge.
Rigger, Shelley (1994), Machine Politics in the New Taiwan: Institutional Re-
form and Electoral Strategy in the Republic of China on Taiwan, un-
published Dissertation, Harvard University.
Sheng, Shing-Yuan (2009), The Dynamic Triangles among Constituencies, Par-
ties, and Legislators: A Comparison Before and After the Reform of Electoral
System, paper presented at the Annual Meeting of American Political
Science Association, Toronto, Canada, 36 September.
Stockton, Hans (2010), How Rules Matter: Electoral Reform in Taiwan,
in: Social Science Quarterly, 91, 1, 21–41.
92 Christian Göbel
Wang, Yeh-lih (1996), The Political Consequences of the Electoral Sys-
tem: Single Nontransferable Voting in Taiwan, in: Issues & Studies,
32, 8, 96–104.
Wu, Chung-li (2008), A Simple Model for Predicting the Outcome of the
2008 Legislative Yuan Elections in Taiwan, in: Issues & Studies, 44, 4,
Wu, Chung-li (2003), Local Factions and the Kuomintang in Taiwan’s
Electoral Politics, in: International Relations of the Asia-Pacific, 3,
Wu, Chung-li (2002), SNTV
Ⲵⴱᙍ˖ᔺㄟ㚷ഐᡆᱟԓ㖚㗄㖺 (SNTV
de xingsi: biduan zhaoyin huoshi daizui gaoyang?, Reconsidering the
SNTV: Pandora’s Box or Scapegoat?), in:
䰞仈о⹄ウ (Wenti yu yan-
jiu, Issues and Studies), 41, 2, 4560.
Wu, Jaushieh Joseph (1995), Taiwan’s Democratization: Forces Behind the New
Momentum, Hong Kong: Oxford University Press.
ournal of Current Chinese Affairs 3/2012: 1
Contemporary Taiwan Studies in Europe:
More Institutionalized, More Vital
Research Articles
Cal CLARK and Alexander C. TAN
Political Polarization in Taiwan:
A Growing Challenge to Catch-all Parties? 7
Jonathan SULLIVAN and Eliyahu V. SAPIR
Ma Ying-jeou’s Presidential Discourse 33
Christian GÖBEL
The Impact of Electoral System Reform on Taiwan’s
Local Factions 69
WANG Hung-jen
Liberalist Variation in Taiwan:
Four Democratization Orientations 93
Cross-Strait Relations and the Way Forward:
Observations from a European Integration Perspective 117
No Winds of Change: Taiwan’s 2012 National Elections and
the Post-election Fallout 143
... In society, political corruption is worst where people are uneducated and immobile. In contrast, educated professionals in urban areas seem to have become resistant to the lures of clientelistic politics (Göbel 2012). ...
... Obtaining the magistracy or mayoralty was very attractive, as the office came with tremendous financial power, and allowed elites to skim additional profits from turning a blind eye to illegal gambling or prostitution (Chen 1995;Chen and Chu 1992). Hence, the KMT leadership tolerated the abuse of public office for private gain in exchange for political support by powerful local families, which in turn mobilized various constituencies (Göbel 2012). As for the governance regime that was formed at the time, it can be said that local corruption was the linchpin that held the KMT regime in place. ...
... Vote buyers use increasingly sophisticated means to hide their tracks, ranging from depositing untaxed revenue on the accounts of willing collaborators to hiding bills in presents given to the voters. On the demand side, many voters expect to receive a compensation for casting their vote, which is often euphemistically referred to as "shoe money" (zoulufei) (Göbel 2012). Such rewards are especially expected of KMT legislators, who find it difficult to distance themselves from practices their party has long been associated with. ...
Full-text available
Corruption has been on the top of Taiwan’s political and social agenda since at least the early 1980s. In many opinion surveys over the years, people have named it the most pressing political issue. Taiwan’s democratization in 1992 did not improve the situation - some observers even argue that corruption has worsened because of the need to finance election campaigns, to win votes and to gain influence in the now-powerful legislature. Since the first change in ruling parties in 2000, the situation has gradually improved. The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) initiated tough anti-corruption regulations, strengthened anti-corruption organizations and cracked down hard on corruption and organized crime. The Kuomintang (KMT), which came to power again in 2008, continued this policy. Several high-profile corruption scandals in the last years mask the fact that Taiwan’s governance has improved markedly in the last decade. Not only have anti-corruption regulations been passed and are rigorously enforced, but also anti-corruption units in the government were strengthened. However, cultural factors such as the importance of personal relations in Chinese society and the habit of giving gifts not only to friends, but also to strategically important persons like doctors, teachers or business partners make it difficult to completely root out corruption.
... In 2005, the final National Assembly in Taiwan passed a constitutional amendment to accomplish a radical electoral reform that halves the number of legislative seats from 225 to 113, increases the terms of legislators from 3 to 4 years, and changes the electoral system of the legislature from the combination of a single non-transferable vote in multimember districts (SNTV-MMD) and closed-list proportional representation to the mixedmember majoritarian (MMM) system incorporating single-member districts (SMD) and party-list seats based on a two-ballot design (See Stockton 2010;Göbel 2012). While Taiwan has held its legislative elections under the MMM system since 2008, the majority of citizens did not fully comprehend the institutional components of the MMM system in the 2008 and 2012 elections (Huang, Wang, and Lin 2013). ...
Election polls have been widely used to probe and understand the public’s political attitudes and behaviour. However, they might simultaneously motivate people to seek information about the questions they do not know when they are asked in the polls. Given that past studies have ignored the role of polls in motivating individual information seeking, this study aims to examine the effect of polls on individual knowledge of the electoral system. Specifically, this study addresses whether individuals’ participation in the election poll would increase their understanding of the electoral system of the legislative election in Taiwan. Using survey data from Taiwan’s Election and Democratisation Study (TEDS) 2016 presidential and legislative elections, this study finds that people who are asked questions about the legislative election in the first survey are more likely to provide correct answers in the second survey compared to their counterparts. The findings imply that election polls are not only tools for understanding public opinion on competing parties or candidates and policy issues, but also for stimulating individuals to understand politics.
... For the role of local factions in the new electoral system seeGöbel (2012). ...
Full-text available
Against the backdrop of an expected new legislative proposal for same-sex marriage in Taiwan in 2016, this paper tackles the oppositional movement and the heated debates on same-sex marriage that emerged with the last attempt to legalized same-sex marriage in September 2013.
... For one, in 2008, the SNTV electoral system was replaced with a mixed-member system, which meant that the element of co-partisan competition for district votes had been removed. Yet, despite changed incentive structures, a number of studies have found that local factions and their clien- telistic networks continue to do well in elections (e.g., Wang and Huang 2010;Göbel 2012 ). 5 Moreover, through the Local Government Act implemented in 2009, a number of counties and cities were merged into larger so-called special municipalities -a move that abolished a whole tier of elected administrative bodies in these counties and cities, which, in turn, may have weakened the power base of local factions. ...
Full-text available
... contracts, credit, protection for illegal business) for the delivery of votes and the provision of campaign funding [e.g. [22,30]]. In South Korea, on the other hand, collusive intra-elite networks have historically been organized at the national level. ...
Full-text available
A new approach has emerged in the literature on corruption in the developing world that breaks with the assumption that corruption is driven by individualistic self-interest and, instead, conceptualizes corruption as an informal system of norms and practices. While this emerging neo-institutionalist approach has done much to further our understanding of corruption in the developing world, one key question has received relatively little attention: how do we explain differences in the institutionalization of corruption between developing countries? The paper here addresses this question through a systematic comparison of seven developing and newly industrialized countries in East Asia. The argument that emerges through this analysis is that historical sequencing mattered: countries in which the ‘political marketplace’ had gone through a process of concentration before universal suffrage was introduced are now marked by less harmful types of corruption than countries where mass voting rights where rolled out in a context of fragmented political marketplaces. The paper concludes by demonstrating that this argument can be generalized to the developing world as a whole.
... These changes were aimed at getting political candidates to cater to broad constituencies and to adhere to the party platform. This, it was hoped, would facilitate the reduction of electoral campaigns merely pursuing narrow local interests, as had been happening (Göbel, 2012). Notwithstanding that these effects took time to be realized, electoral reform has heralded a new policy landscape for social pension development. ...
Over the last two decades, there has been a remarkable transformation of the demography and political economy of East and Southeast Asia, thus raising pensions as an important policy issue. In addressing the pension needs of those outside formal sector employment, Taiwan was the regional forerunner regarding social pension provision. However, the immense political popularity of these schemes waned and from the mid-2000s onwards the government began to substitute them with a contributory system for the socially disadvantaged. This paper analyses the political dynamics of social pensions in Taiwan, from expansion of coverage through to gradual dismantlement. The politics surrounding these benefits has received scant attention in international scholarship, with the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank Institute, in particular, having focused most of their attention on policy design issues. The contention here is that a specific configuration of political factors featured prominently in Taiwan, thus providing an explanation for the evolution of its pension policy. Also, these political dimensions can shed light on how this type of pension could evolve in other East and Southeast Asian countries, which is pertinent given that many have increasingly ageing populations.
... En segundo lugar, el eje del análisis está sustentado en las expectativas teóricas esperables que se han construido de esta forma de organización de la representación, más que todo estudiando el comportamiento de estas instituciones en países desarrollados. Sin embargo, una incipiente literatura (Birch, 2007;Fujimura, 2013;Göbel, 2012;Jou, 2009;Sheng, 2009;Wu, 2003) que se ha preocupado por estudiar países con diferentes estadios de desarrollo -donde se ha pasado de sistemas de representación proporcional a mayoritarios-ha encontrado que no partidos ni en la relación entre electores y políticos. Los efectos de esta institución se encuentran mediados por otra serie de factores institucionales y contextuales. ...
Full-text available
El libro realiza una exhaustiva revisión de literatura alrededor del tema de los distritos electorales desde una perspectiva comparada. Esta revisión de literatura en primera instancia se concentra en el debate que se ha construido sobre las fortalezas y debilidades en torno a los distritos uninominales, y concretamente, reflexiona en torno a la relación existente entre estos distritos y la construcción de capital social. En la segunda parte, el libro recolecta información sistemática sobre los tipos de sistemas electorales en Latinoamérica y en los países que pertenecen a la Organización para la Cooperación y desarrollo Económico (OCDE), así como de sus niveles de capital social y por medio de análisis de varianza identifica si existe una relación entre los tipos de distritos y el capital social. En la tercera parte a partir de una aproximación histórica se reconstruye analíticamente las distintas formas institucionales bajo las cuales se ha configurado el sistema electoral colombiano desde 1886 hasta la actualidad.
Throughout its long democratic transition and two decades of democratic functioning, Taiwan’s political development has attracted attention from many political scientists. This review of recent scholarship finds that while some works suffer from political bias, there is no shortage of high-quality academic work on this topic. Well-crafted assessments of Taiwan’s democratic performance vary in their conclusions, but critical assessments outnumber laudatory ones. Topics that have attracted especially strong attention from scholars include Taiwan’s constitutional development (with the verdict that the island is ill-served by a pattern of politically motivated constitutional changes) and electoral reform (which is judged to have strengthened the two-party system). Finally, the paper identifies and categorises works that compare Taiwan to other new democracies and summarises work on how Taiwan’s democracy is perceived by the island’s public.
Full-text available
Since Taiwan became democratic in 1992 and especially after the change in ruling parties in 2000, the passage of new laws and the reform of existing ones have defined more clearly than ever what constitutes “corrupt” behavior, and legal changes have followed international norms. Moreover, since the change in ruling parties, judicial independence has been guaranteed, and anti-corruption agencies have been strengthened considerably. Despite the fact that there is still corruption, and that the institutional configuration of Taiwan’s anti-corruption agencies is far from optimum, these are major achievements.The present report explains these achievements by analyzing the impact of two turning points in Taiwan’s history, democratization and the change in ruling parties, on agency in Taiwan’s anti-corruption reforms. It does so by applying the methodology of process-tracing, which investigates the historical developments around these two “critical junctures” in Taiwan’s history, while taking into consideration enabling and constraining factors “inherited” from the authoritarian era. The analysis primarily draws on interviews conducted with former and present officials, judges, and investigators in October 2014.
Full-text available
The 2008 Legislative Yuan elections in Taiwan were held under a new electoral system, a combination of single-member districts with a plurality system, the national nonpreferential list proportional representation system, and the single nontransferable vote system for the aboriginal districts. This work develops a forecasting model and hypothesizes that the partisan voting behavior of Taiwan's citizens largely remains identifiable and durable. There are two methodologies used in this study. The first is the use of three-wave aggregate-level electoral data to estimate the outcomes of the 2008 legislative elections. The second employs ordinary least squares (OLS) estimations to evaluate the effects of previous three-wave electoral results on the 2008 elections. Using the first method, the forecast success rate is more than 80 percent. The findings also reveal that the OLS model performs satisfactorily because two of the three coefficients reach statistical significance. This study, concludes by listing three implications of the election: that it was a critical watershed in Taiwan's politics, that
Full-text available
Two factors account for Taiwan's failure to consolidate democratic rule through constitutional revision even after the island's remarkably successful decade of democratization. First, though the two leading parties shared a common interest in working out a smooth pattern of liberalization and democratization, vital reforms of the constitutional and electoral systems were either not in the strategic interests of the major parties, or not of crucial importance to the parties, especially to President Lee and the Kuomintang Party, who were in the stronger position as the ruling party. Second, the parties were constrained by the existing Constitution and their own policy platforms, both of which were profoundly shaped by Taiwan's conflict with mainland China. The KMT was forced to work within a constitutional structure derived from its period on the mainland, while the DPP's stance on revisions was constrained by the priority it placed on increasing Taiwan's sense of independence.
In its modern history, Taiwan has adopted the multi-member district, single nontransferable voting (SNTV) system in elections for various public posts. Recent electoral reforms in Japan and South Korea have led to the abandoning of SNTV in those countries, leaving Taiwan as the only country with the system. The SNTV system has been different from the single-member district plurality and proportional representation (PR) systems in its design and impact on party politics. The adoption of SNTV in Taiwan has generated several features in the electoral system which are significantly different from those in Western democracies and worthy of further study. In this paper, the author first explores the historical background and evolution of SNTV in Taiwan and its impact on Taiwan's party politics, party nomination process, and election campaigns. The author then discusses the advantages and drawbacks of this system and makes some suggestions for future electoral reform in Taiwan.
Many scholars have studied the importance of local factions in Taiwan's political economy since 1945. However, important historical and theoretical questions about Taiwan's local factions remain unanswered, possibly affecting the accuracy of scholarly analyses. Understanding the dynamics of Taiwan's factional politics requires an understanding of the political institutional environment and development dating back to Japanese and early Kuomintang (KMT) rule. This paper finds that the historical and institutional relationships between the "foreign" rulers and the local elite were very similar during these two periods. Similarities existed in government structure, initial control strategy, initial administrative quality, administrative reform, political control, local elite reaction to "foreign" rule, government rewards to the local elite (the third realm), and the business and social connections among the elite.
The traditional view of the single nontransferable vote (SNTV) system has been that it is superproportional--tending to produce larger seat bonuses for small parties than for large parties--because small parties face easier nomination and vote division problems than do large parties. A contrary view is that SNTV privileges governing parties by giving them superior access to particularistic policy benefits, which are useful in stabilizing both nominations and vote divisions within parties. By the latter view, SNTV should lead to subproportional results--with larger seat bonuses for large parties than for small parties--to the extent that governing parties are large. In this paper, I operationalize and test these competing claims at the district level, using both cross-tabulations and probit analysis. Although there is a sense in which SNTV is superproportional, I show that two large governing parties (the LDP of Japan and the KMT of Taiwan) have been significantly more efficient at securing as many seats as possible out of a given maximum number of winnable seats, than have their respective oppositions.