The new election system for the seventh Legislative Yuan has raised hopes that competent, level-headed legislators will be favored by both parties and voters over the boisterous personalities that have for so long dominated headlines. The halving of the number of legislative seats from 225 to 113 was expected to root out the worst of the lot, while replacing multi-member districts with single-member districts seemed to favor moderate candidates.
Reality has not kept up with the expectations of reform.
First, the nominations process strongly favored incumbent legislators in both parties. In mid-March, just months before the Nationalist Party (KMT) primary moved into full swing,
party regulations were amended (amendments never passed; thanks YSL) so that any elected official who hadn't finished half of his or her current term could not register to run for a new office. The amendments aimed to reduce the chances incumbents would run as independents if not nominated. Around 30 recently-elected city and county councilors and township chiefs who expressed interest in the race were unable to run in the primary. Although the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) did not similarly amend regulations, the final result was essentially the same. Of 77 would-be DPP lawmakers, only 16 of those who even registered are not current legislators.
Second, both parties' also were very generous to their attack dogs and less moderate candidates. In March, just before former legislator Chiu Yi (邱毅) was sent to jail for leading an attack on a Kaohsiung government office in 2004, Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and other leading KMT figures were calling for him to be the first man on the at-large list. On the DPP's side, nominees were chosen by averaging weighted results of a vote by party members (who make up only one percent of Taiwan's population) and an opinion poll that excluded blue-leaning voters. This assured legislators popular with the base won out over legislators well-liked by moderate voters. Just note the fate of most of the so-called "11 bandits" or the victory of Ma-basher Wang Shih-cheng (王世堅) over Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴).
Further, incompetent legislators did well in the nominations process. Of the 12 DPP and KMT legislators given a failing grade by the Taipei Society based on attendance, conduct, secondary employment and bill propositions, a shocking eight have been nominated (two may yet have a chance). Of the three remaining legislators who didn't make the grade, one -- Lin Kuo-ching (林國慶) -- lost his nomination to legislator Tsai Chi-fang (蔡啟芳), who also holds the distinction of receiving failing marks.
On the bright side, competent legislators also earned nominations. Citizen Front, an NGO which promotes legislative reform and civic awareness, endorsed 13 candidates across party lines. So far, seven of them have been nominated and at least two others are rumored to be favorites for other important positions. Nevertheless, the fact that a much higher proportion of legislators who are better at getting headlines than they are at passing laws were nominated over their more capable counterparts does not inspire confidence.