In November this year, Taiwanese voters will go to the polls to elect all of their local officials, including city and county mayors and councils, as well as 里長 and 村長, neighborhood wardens in charge of community affairs and volunteers.
Over ten thousand local government officials may be sent packing, as Taiwan’s small parties are trying to break the oligopoly of the two major parties, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). Among the new challengers, experienced small parties and freshly formed political entities from the aftermath of the Sunflower movement are gearing up to fundamentally change the political landscape.
Many of the small parties, such as the Green Party and 人民民主陣線 (The People’s Democratic Front), have been around for many years, building their support from their relationships in the NGO and social movement sectors. Last year, the Green Party elected two new leaders with experience in the NGO sector, which the party is hoping to earn the endorsement of civic organizations. With a long history of mobilizing Taiwan’s social movements, these small parties aim to secure positions at the bottom of the political hierarchy.
However, these small parties still face many challenges. With most of them coming together during their days as social activists, a common problem facing them is the lack of financial support that the KMT and DPP enjoy. The People’s Democratic Front has only raised half of the NT$3 million dollars necessary to pay the registration deposit required of candidates.
Additionally, many small parties have to contend with ideological and strategic differences in opinion within their ranks. While many of them emerged from social movements, they are often unable to consolidate the differences in their demands. For the People’s Democratic Front, the debate over whether to emphasize social activism or devote fully to the election has caused one of the labor movement factions of the group to leave and form a different party.
Although Taiwan has always had a wide spread of political parties and enjoyed a period the 1990s when smaller parties held seats at the local and national levels, Taiwan’s political landscape has gradually consolidated into two major parties. However, according to the Taiwan Indicators Survey Research, since the last national election in 2012, approval ratings for both the DPP and the KMT has drastically decreased while voters who are “neutral” to all parties have increased, from about 27% to 39% in July this year.
(Feature photo of the Sunflower Movement’s March 30th rally, by Betty Wang)