Australia-China Chamber of Commerce and Industry
of New South Wales








Outcome of the 1st December Elections in Taiwan (“Chinese Taipei”)

4 December 2001



What are the main results of the elections?

What factors contributed to the north-south polarisation in local government elections?

What are the implications for Taiwan’s changing political environment?

What are the implications for cross-strait relations?

Annex A:  Bilateral and multilateral agreements on the status of Taiwan

Related documents

Implications of a Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu (“Chinese Taipei”),

”Chinese Taipei” in the “Key Cities” section



In the Chamber report, dated 17 November 2001, we stated that the majority of seats held by the KMT in the Legislative Yuan is expected to change after the 1st December elections.  That did occur, but the results of the elections deserve additional commentary.  Specifically:

Ø       They indicate that Taiwan’s political environment is evolving, but in a somewhat uneven and unsteady way.

Ø       The results do not appear either to add or detract from the current cross-strait relations.

Summary of results:

What are the main results of the elections?

The ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was declared the “winner”, with an increase of 20 seats and the largest plurality.  Prior to the elections, the DPP was considered to be the ruling party since it became a major element in the Executive Yuan after the election of Chen Shui-bian as president in May 2000, but it lacked strength in the Legislative Yuan.

The win was nevertheless narrow.  The DPP’s share of seats increased from 30.4 per cent to only 38.2 per cent, which is obviously well short of a majority.  The significance of the results lies mainly in the demise of the Nationalist Party (KMT), whose share of seats dropped from 50.7 per cent to 29.8 per cent (see table below which contains the results announced on 2nd December).


Seats new

Per cent

Seats old

Per cent

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)





Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU)










"Green Team Extended"





Nationalist Party (KMT)





People First Party (PFP)





New Party (NP)





"Blue Team"





Total seats





Not all of the decline in KMT support went to the DPP and its associated party, the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU).  The People First Party (PFP), led by James Soong as an early breakaway from the KMT, increased its share from 9.2 per cent to 20.4 per cent.

Even if Chen Shui-bian manages to obtain support from all of the independents (12 of them), the resulting coalition, including the TSU, will have only 49.3 per cent of the seats.  Comfortable control of the Legislative Yuan by the DPP will therefore depend upon eight or nine defections of elected deputies from the “Blue Team”, consisting of the Nationalist Party (KMT), the People First Party (PFP) and the New Party (NP).

Interpretation of the results is further complicated by the swing toward the “Blue Team” in the local government elections that were conducted at the same time.  The swing was particularly pronounced in the north, thus creating a north-south polarisation.

Local government results:

What factors contributed to the north-south polarisation in local government elections?

The “Blue” North

KMT candidates for county commissioners and mayors defeated the DPP incumbents in the following:

Ø       Keelung City,

Ø       Taoyuan County,

Ø       Hsinchu City,

Ø       Hsinchu County,

Ø       Taichung City, and

Ø       Taichun County.

The results are attributed to the failure on the part of the DPP incumbents to focus on local economic or environmental issues, and, in at least one case, to internal bickering within the DPP.

In Keelung City, DPP Mayor Lee Chin-yung lost to Hsu Tsai-li, who was the speaker of the outgoing municipal council and a vocal critic of the mayor’s policies. 

In Hsinchu City, the incumbent mayor, Tsai Jen-chien, lost voter support after his failure to manage the environmental problems associated with science-based industrial park in Hsinchu.  The incoming mayor, Lin Jung-chien, promised to merge the administrations of Hsinchu City and the industrial park. 

In Hsinchu County, the newly elected commissioner, Cheng Yung-chin, received support from the KMT, as well as from the PFP and the New Party.  He apparently gained from the absence of bickering.

In Taichung City, Mayor Chang Wen-ying stood as an independent after being elected initially as a DPP candidate.  This probably split the vote for the DPP candidate, allowing the KMT’s Jason Hu, a former foreign affairs minister, to obtain nearly half of the votes. 

The mayor of Taichung County, Liao Yung-lai, opposed a local investment project of the Bayer Corporation on environmental grounds.  Some analysts suggested that about 1,000 jobs in the county were lost as a result, and this contributed to a shift in support to the KMT candidate, Huang Chung-sheng.

The “Green” South

From Nantou County in the central part of Taiwan Island to the southern tip, DPP candidates won local government positions except in Taichung City and County and Yulin County.  DPP victories are particularly notable in:

Ø       Chaiyi County,

Ø       Changhua County,

Ø       Tainan City,

Ø       Tainan County,

Ø       Kaohsiung County, and

Ø       Pingtung County.

The success of the DPP in these areas is attributed mainly to the close relationship between local branches and the DPP-led central government. 

The More Remote Areas

The People First Party (PFP), which participated in local elections for the first time, now dominates two remote counties previously held by the KMT.  Legislator Hsu Ching-yuan took Taitung County, previously held by the KMT, while Chen Hsueh-sheng swept to victory in Lienchiang County -- the official administrative title for the Matsu archipelago.

A victory in Kinmen County was the New Party's only success in the elections.  NP legislator Lee Chu-feng gained the largest number of votes ever in local elections for commissioner in Kinmen.

Kinmen and Matsu would of course benefit from improved cross-strait relations since the islands lie off the coast of Fujian Province and expect to become a central part of direct links with the mainland.  It is therefore not surprising that the parties pressing harder for such links gained their support.

Overall Assessment

The KMT added one more post to its tally in the previous elections of 1997, securing a total of nine posts, while the DPP lost three posts to leave it also with nine positions.  The overall result was therefore not devastating for the DPP, but it did result in some disappointment.

The most important element emerging from the local government elections is that 12 out of the 23 positions that were contested this time resulted in new administrations.  Hence, at this level the voting displayed dissatisfaction with the incumbents. 

This could be a key element in explaining the voting pattern, and it is therefore relevant to the effect of the results on cross-strait relations.

Taiwanese politics:

What are the implications for Taiwan’s changing political environment?

A number of analysts have suggested that the election results indicate that the Taiwanese voters are “thinking for themselves” and are continuing the move away from traditional politics, which has been built around KMT dominance. 

This of course is not surprising.  As we mentioned in previous comments, the one-party system in Taiwan, which was initiated and perpetuated for specific purposes by the KMT, would eventually reach the limits of Taiwanese acceptance.

It is significant to note, however, that a main vehicle to move away from this dominance has been, and continues to be, the breakaway parties.  As noted previously, James Soong established the People First Party with defectors from the KMT.  It remains close in ideology to the KMT and is classified as part of the “Blue Team”. 

The Taiwan Solidarity Union was given a substantial boost with support from former president Lee Teng-hui, who was expelled from the KMT as a result of this support.  The TSU is identified with the “Green Team” since it is a strong promoter of localisation (and is thus an opponent of mainlander dominance).  TSU people are therefore less traditional (“blue”) compared to the PFP, but are nevertheless not as far to the left (“green”) as the DPP. 

Voters in Taiwan would appear to have a range of choices, but it is not clear whether the votes that were cast on 1st December represent an ideological swing.  An editorial in the Taipei Times (2 December 2001) suggests that it as more an expression of dissatisfaction:

The voters of Taiwan have sent a clear message to the parties: "We are not satisfied with your performance, none of you are completely trustworthy."  There was no big winner in yesterday's elections -- no party won an absolute majority in the legislative polls.  The stage is set for a partisan realignment.

The need for a partisan realignment is obvious and has existed for some time.  It is also clear that the hurdles to such a realignment are unchanged.  They are imposed and perpetuated by the four political leaders:

Ø       President Chen Shui-bian,

Ø       former president Lee Teng-hui,

Ø       KMT Chairman Lien Chan, and

Ø       People’s First Chairman James Soong.

Each will seek a base of power and influence, and any alliances among the four are likely to become shaky if those individual bases begin to weaken as a result of the alliances.

The conclusion is not very satisfying:  we must wait and see.

Cross-strait relations:

What are the implications for cross-strait relations?

Nothing new seems to be added in the sense that the election results offer little or nothing to either stimulate, or discourage further, the resumption of cross-strait discussions. 

Some analysts suggested that “China would be compelled to deal with Chen’s administration if he has the governing majority in the country one way or another” (statement by Larry Diamond, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University as reported by the Taipei Times in “Foreign Observers See Cross-Strait Tensions Easing”, dated 2 December 2001.)

We note, first, there is ambiguity in the use of the word “country” (see Annex A).  Second, Chen Shui-bian may succeed in forming a DPP-led majority in the Legislative Yuan, but that has not yet been accomplished.  Third, if such a majority is formed it may inspire a new effort to resume the cross-strait discussions, but it is difficult to see the compulsion to do so. 

Even if Beijing had been waiting for the 1st December elections to reveal the will of the Taiwanese in connection with cross-strait relations, which is very unlikely, they would have learned very little. 

Wang Yeh-lih, professor of political science at Tunghai University, made an interesting observation, again reported in the Taipei Times:

Viewing voters' support ratings for the "pan-blue" camp and the "pan-green" camp, on the other hand, no significant structural change took place in Taiwan's last five legislative elections.  In other words, the percentages of ballots cast for the major parties have remained the same -- the "pan-blue" camp attracted around 54 percent of the votes while the "pan-green" camp attracted around 45 percent.  Therefore, voter support for local parties is quite stable, as no structural "political realignment" has occurred.

The most we can say, therefore, is that the election results indicate that the Taiwanese are dissatisfied with current conditions – economic as well as political – but do not have a grasp on how those conditions can be improved. 

They look to the four political leaders mentioned above to provide the solution, but each has been around for some time and no new progress has been made. 




We can of course understand how easy it is to refer to Taiwan as a “country” or as a “nation”, but in fact it is recognised as such by only a small group of nations.  The vast majority of sovereign nations recognise Taiwan as a separate economy and, with official entry into the WTO, as a separate customs territory.

We can also understand that the Taiwanese, and many others, consider that to be unfair in view of their economic achievements since 1949.  Whether it is “unfair” or not, it was a decision made by a large number of governments.

A statement conveying the nature of the Sino-US agreement is available from the US Library of Congress’ Internet site (, under “Sino-American Relations” in Chapter 12):

Ties between China and the United States began to strengthen in 1978, culminating in the December announcement that diplomatic relations would be established as of January 1, 1979.  In establishing relations, Washington reaffirmed its agreement that the People's Republic was the sole legal government of China and that Taiwan was an inalienable part of China [emphasis added].

As far as we can determine, the agreement did not specify the way in which Taiwan, as an inalienable part of China, should be designated, but it is clear that calling Taiwan a “country” or a “nation” would not be consistent with the agreement.

It is also clear that referring to Taiwan as the “Republic of China” would not be consistent with the agreement since the context in which it is used by the Taiwanese presumes reference to a “legal government of China”.

It is of course not necessary that citizens of a nation conform to all that is agreed upon by their government, but not doing so is either an indication of ignorance or of deliberate defiance.  Without clarification, such usage it is therefore ambiguous.

We mentioned in the previous comment on Taiwan’s entry into the WTO that it represents an opportunity to change the context of Taiwan’s relations with the rest of the world.  Specifically, a “special customs territory” member of the WTO conveys acceptance that Taiwan is fully autonomous in the conduct of its external relations.  From the WTO’s Internet site (

Governments accede to the WTO.  Normally these are the governments of sovereign States.  However, separate customs territories, such as Hong Kong, may also be members of the WTO, provided these customs territories possess full autonomy in the conduct of their external relations and of the matters provided for in the Marrakesh Agreement and the Multilateral Agreements annexed thereto.

The rest of the world recognises that Taiwan has been fully autonomous in the conduct is its external relations.  What is new, after Taiwan ratifies the WTO agreement, is that all WTO members (including the People’s Republic of China) explicitly recognise that autonomy.

Taiwanese may not be fully satisfied with the designation “separate customs territory”, but it can supply more than they have at the moment.


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