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With the 2016 general elections right around the corner, the island nation of Taiwan will once again exercise its hard-won democracy in a contest heralding exciting political change. On January 16, each citizen of voting age (20 years or older) with a valid household registration in the “Free Area of the Republic of China (ROC)” will be presented with three paper ballots:

  • a presidential ballot to decide who will become the next ROC president, taking office on May 20
  • two separate ballots to determine the makeup of the Legislative Yuan, the unicameral legislature that will be seated on February 1

In this primer, we take a closer look at the Taiwanese electoral system, including how the multiple legislative ballots are counted and how seats are assigned to lawmakers.

Composition of the Legislature

Reforms enacted in 2005 set the size of the Legislative Yuan at 113 seats. Upon arriving in the capital of Taipei, all 113 lawmakers are equal in terms of their rights and responsibilities. (One will eventually be chosen as the speaker of the legislature.) However, in the process of gaining office, not all of them are elected using the same method.

There are three main ways to join the lawmaking body: 73 legislators take seats representing geographically-based single-member districts (SMD); six seats are reserved for aboriginal legislators; and 34 seats are filled by proportional representation (PR), in accordance with a nationwide party vote.

Photo Credit: Ketagalan Media

Photo Credit: Ketagalan Media

1. Geographical Constituencies: majoritarian single-member districts (SMD)

Geographical constituencies in Taiwan are single-member electoral districts, akin to congressional districts in the United States. A single winner represents the entire district by receiving a plurality of the votes, i.e. the most votes, often referred to as a “first-past-the-post” contest.

Geographic constituencies make up 73 seats, or nearly two-thirds of the Legislative Yuan. Every major administrative division—including special municipalities (直轄市), counties (縣), and county-level cities (市)—is guaranteed representation by at least one electoral district. At present, there are 22 municipalities, counties, and county-level cities in Taiwan.

Most electoral districts are drawn to contain roughly 320,000 registered residents. (Note: Electoral districts are not to be confused with city districts, which are political boundaries for local administration.) Boundaries were originally decided in 2007, as part of the implementation of the current electoral system. With 73 electoral districts mapped across the nation, the democratic intent was for each district to represent a similar number of citizens in the legislature.

However, some areas have seen major population booms, while others have experienced outflows of residents, which is not reflected in current electoral districts. For example, Hsinchu County’s population as of November 2015 is about 0.54 million, which has surpassed both Nantou County (0.51 million) and Chiayi County (0.52 million)—yet it is represented by one lone legislator, while the latter two counties have two representatives each. As a result, Hsinchu County’s residents are comparatively underrepresented in the national legislature. Future redistricting efforts could alleviate these imbalances.

The News Lens international edition has been authorized to repost this article. The full piece is published on Ketagalan Media here: How Does Taiwan’s Parliamentary Election Work

First Editor: Olivia Yang
Second Editor: Eric Tsai