Blue, Green and Yellow: Party Dynamics in Taiwan and Hong Kong

For many years, Taiwanese politics has been dominated by two colours: “Blue” and “Green.” These colours are associated with the Kuomintang (KMT), which supports unification with China, and the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).[1] However, in the months preceding the 2016 general elections, a “Third Force” emerged in the electoral landscape. Led by the New Power Party (NPP), founded in September 2015 after the “Sunflower Movement” student protests, these new parties are attempting to forge their own path rather than follow in the footsteps of the KMT and DPP.

Time will tell if this “Third Force” will gain enough support to alter the two-party dynamics of Taiwan. At the least, their participation in this year’s elections contributed to the record-high of 556 candidates running for legislative seats.[2] Out of all the new parties, the NPP appears to have the most potential. Led by the flamboyant Freddy Lim, lead singer for the Taiwanese death metal band Chthonic, the NPP has garnered significant media attention, and their party leadership includes well-known figures from the Sunflower Movement. Polls indicate that the NPP has become the third most popular party in Taiwan.[3] After winning five seats in the 2016 election, the NPP is now the third largest party in the legislature after the KMT and the DPP.[4] The remaining “Third Force” parties failed to secure any seats.

The NPP’s chosen colour is yellow, which evokes memories of the Umbrella Movement. Indeed, their ascendance mirrors the rise of the “Umbrella Soldiers” during the Hong Kong District Council elections. Like the NPP, the “Umbrella Soldiers” are vying to become an alternative to mainstream political parties. Still, judging by the results of the 2016 election, the NPP has a long way to go before it can win strong representation in the Taiwanese government. This can largely be attributed to the electoral rules governing Taiwan’s unicameral legislature, the Legislative Yuan. By contrast, the rules used to select the popularly elected members of the Legislative Council (LegCo) in Hong Kong are friendlier for smaller parties. It may be worthwhile to compare the systems used to elect the Legislative Yuan and the LegCo to explain why the fortunes of young parties could differ in the legislatures of each region.

Party Representation in the Legislative Yuan and the Legislative Council

As the first female president of Taiwan, Tsai’s victory has been hailed as a ground-breaking development in Taiwanese politics.[5] But as far as the two-party dynamics of Taiwan are concerned, not much has changed at all. After the 2016 election, both the DPP and the KMT still combined to control at least 91% of the seats in the Legislative Yuan, which has remained the case since 2008.[6]

Unlike the Legislative Yuan, the Legislative Council (LegCo) in Hong Kong is not dominated by two parties. The two historical leaders of the Pan-Democracy and Pro-Establishment camps, the Democratic Party (DP) and the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), are not as strongly represented in the LegCo as the DPP or the KMT in Taiwan.[7] The highest percentage of popularly elected LegCo seats held by the DP and the DAB was 66% in 2000.[8] In 2012, only 40% of popularly elected LegCo members were from the DP and DAB.[9] And while the Legislative Yuan now contains members from five parties, the LegCo includes members from thirteen parties.[10]

Electoral Rules for the Legislative Yuan: At-Large and Aboriginal Elections

In 2005, the DPP and the KMT passed a bill that reformed Taiwan’s legislative elections. The law, which still applies today, reduced the legislature from 225 to 113 members.[11] Additionally, it provided that 34 members will be elected using proportional representation (PR), six members from the single non-transferable vote system (SNTV), and 73 members from the first-past-the-post system (FPTP).[12]

Legislative Yuan members selected using PR are voted by electors across all of Taiwan, rather than through individual districts. These seats are known as “at-large” seats. Voters will select from lists of multiple candidates nominated by political parties rather than individual candidates.[13] The 34 seats selected using this method are allocated based on the proportion of votes accumulated by each party list across Taiwan. Only parties with over 5% of the PR vote will be awarded seats.

The PR system favours small parties, because they can win representation proportionate to their amount of votes.[14] Indeed, the Provisional Legislative Council Secretariat of Hong Kong stated in 1998 that PR makes it unlikely for a large party to achieve an inordinate share of the representative body.[15] Also, the usage of the “Hare Quota”[16] and the “Largest Remainder”[17] in Taiwan can make it difficult for large parties to win extra seats through the at-large election. Thus, small parties such as the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) and the People First Party (PFP) were able to win 13% of the PR seats in 2012, which was roughly proportionate to their total vote share of the PR vote, 14.45%.[18]

In addition to the at-large election, the 550,000 residents with aboriginal status in Taiwan participate in a separate election using the single non-transferable vote system to select six legislators. Under this system, every voter selects one candidate. Parties can send multiple candidates.

Electoral Rules for the Legislative Yuan: District elections

Every registered voter in Taiwan without aboriginal status receives an at-large ballot and a ballot to vote for a legislator to represent their district through the “First-past-the-post” system. These legislators are chosen by voters from 73 geographic districts across all of Taiwan. Each district elects one member. Under the FPTP system, successful candidates must only secure a plurality of the votes in each district. A majority is not required. Therefore, as long as a candidate secures one more vote than the next leading competitor, he or she will win. In the hypothetical case shown below, Tsai Ing-wen would be elected despite winning only 40% of the votes, since she has more votes than her closest competitor, Eric Chu.

First-past-the-post and voter behaviour

Under FPTP, it is difficult for small parties to win representation.[19] Even the Taiwanese government notes that “smaller parties [have] slim chances of winning district seats.”[20] Under FPTP, every voter who does not select the winning candidate has no say in forming the government. For instance, in Table 3, 60% of the voters in the hypothetical election will not be represented by their preferred candidate.

Rational voters will not want to waste their votes.[21] In the hypothetical election above, PFP voters may decide to vote for the KMT in the next election since the KMT and the PFP are part of the “Pan-Blue coalition.”[22] The same logic applies to the “Pan-Green coalition,” which includes the DPP and the TSU.[23]

It is no surprise, then, that the real-life TSU and the PFP have seen their representation in the Legislative Yuan shrink considerably when FPTP was first implemented in 2005. After controlling 14.8% of the legislature in 2004, the PFP was reduced to a single seat after the 2008 elections, while the TSU was eliminated after holding 8.3% of the seats in 2004.[24] In all but one of the districts where a TSU candidate ran against a DPP candidate, the TSU candidate won less than 6% of the vote.[25] This proves that pro-independence voters felt compelled to “push the TSU aside” in favour of the larger DPP.[26] In the 2016 elections, the TSU was once again eliminated from the legislature while the PFP retained three seats.[27]

Statistics from elections prior to 2005, when FPTP was not used, reveal FPTP’s effect on the legislature. The highest percentage of seats held by third parties and independents was 31.1% in 2001.[28] In 2004, 25.3% of the seats were controlled by third parties and independents. The reduction from these numbers to the 7.8% seat share for third parties in 2012 and 8.8% in 2016 attests to the power of FPTP.

Of course, not every legislator in Taiwan is elected using FPTP. One-third of the legislators are elected using proportional representation, which is friendlier to smaller parties. Yet, the number of seats that a small party can win in this manner while competing against the KMT and the DPP is too small to facilitate meaningful representation in the legislature. The 5% threshold rule also makes it difficult for third parties to convince voters to support them when there is a chance their votes will not matter.[29]

First-past-the-post and party behaviour

Under the FPTP system, internal competition in the Pan-Blue coalition could lead the DPP to victory by “splitting” the Pan-Blue vote. This explains why the PFP decided to run all but one of its candidates in the FPTP elections under the KMT banner in 2008. Other parties sympathetic to the KMT, such as the New Party (NP) and the Non-Partisan Solidarity Union (NPSU), followed suit, demonstrating that the switch to the FPTP system convinced these small “blue” parties to throw their support behind the KMT while sacrificing their chance of winning a large contingent of seats in the legislature.[30]

Coordination between the blue parties persisted in the 2016 election. The PFP only ran six candidates for the FPTP seats, while the NP ran two candidates and the NPSU ran none. Intra-party coordination was not limited to the blue coalition; the TSU also sent only two candidates this year after sending 13 candidates in 2008. It is apparent that the FPTP system has put pressure on parties across the political spectrum to work together in the interests of avoiding a split vote.[31]

Green and Yellow

Although the NPP supports independence and shares many of the same core policies as the TSU, their growing poll numbers and national profile suggest that they have already replaced the TSU as the second most viable pro-independence party in Taiwan.[32] This was confirmed after the 2016 election when the NPP won five seats in the legislature while the TSU was eliminated. Despite being formed only last year, the NPP sent five candidates to compete for district seats- three more than the TSU and only one less than the PFP. Six candidates from the NPP also contested as a party list.

Freddy Lim states that the NPP’s goal is to gradually eliminate the KMT: “We don’t believe that a mature two-party system includes the KMT and the DPP, because the KMT is an undemocratic, pre-modern political party.”[33] The NPP has coordinated with the DPP occasionally; for instance, Tsai Ing-wen posted a picture with Lim last August where both politicians posed with death metal hand signs.[34] This year Lim was elected as a legislative member in Taipei’s 5th district after defeating a veteran KMT legislator.[35]

Both parties have also worked together to avoid sending candidates to compete with each other in the district FPTP elections. Still, based on the rising national profile of the NPP, these youthful upstarts intend to become a legitimate political force in their own right, not merely an ally of the “Pan-Green coalition.” Indeed, if the NPP can build on its strong showing in 2016, they may become a true “Third Force” in Taiwan rather than an accessory to the two larger parties like the TSU or the PFP. The electoral rules of the Legislative Yuan, however, will make this difficult, as both the PFP and TSU have found.

Electoral Rules in the Legislative Council: At-Large Elections

In Hong Kong, the LegCo is elected using a combination of party-list proportional representation and FPTP.[36] 35 seats from five different geographic constituencies across Hong Kong are selected using PR and universal suffrage. The remaining 35 seats are selected from functional constituencies. 30 of these seats are selected using FPTP.[37] Five of the functional constituency seats, however, are selected using the party-list PR system, except the electorate is composed of all registered voters in Hong Kong rather than five geographic districts.[38] Only district councillors are able to run for these “Super Seats.”

Essentially, the geographic constituency elections and the “Super Seat” election resemble the at-large elections in Taiwan. Like Taiwan, the LegCo uses the Largest Remainder and the Hare quota. There are two main differences. The first is that Hong Kong does not have a 5% threshold rule. The second is that Hong Kong parties can and often choose to send multiple party lists to contest the same constituency.[39] In this way the parties can maximise their seat totals, taking advantage of the fact that large parties have difficulty winning extra seats under the Largest Remainder system using a single party list.

It should be noted however that while the electoral rules of the LegCo promote splitting of party lists, there are many other reasons why candidates from a large party may decide to run under a separate party list or under a different party name altogether. For instance, candidates may have genuine ideological disagreements with the party leadership, which may embolden them to run under a different party name despite sharing certain overarching political beliefs. Or, a candidate may form a new political party in order to target a different demographic or interest group from the DAB or the DP. Nonetheless, in addition to these considerations, the PR system itself still plays a significant role in encouraging large parties or coalitions to “split up” either into party lists or into ideologically similar factions.[40] Under these conditions, it is quite feasible for new parties to emerge and secure LegCo representation.

Implications for New Parties

During the District Council elections, a number of new parties inspired by the Umbrella Movement sent candidates to contest District Council seats.[41] Like most legislative seats in Taiwan, district council seats are selected by FPTP, which favours large parties. Yet, the “Umbrella Soldiers” were able to win a few seats against well-known politicians, despite operating independently of the “Pan-Democrat” coalition.[42] Since the LegCo geographical constituencies elect members use PR, which is more favourable to small parties, there is a good chance that a new party such as “Youngspiration” could win one LegCo seat.

If the “Umbrella Soldiers” succeed in winning LegCo representation, as the NPP has managed to do in the Legislative Yuan, these disparate political movements may find that they have a great deal more in common than youthful exuberance. Still, if the past is any indication, breaking up the binary between the DPP and the KMT will be a herculean task for the NPP, even with their surprising 2016 success. It will be easier for small parties in Hong Kong to win a few seats in the LegCo due to the PR rules.



1 A Tsai is just a Tsai, The Economist, January 9, 2016,
2 Taiwan candidates get theatrical in packed final leg of presidential election race, South China Morning Post, January 9, 2016,
3 Linda van der Horst, The Rise of Taiwan’s “Third Force,” The Diplomat, January 6, 2016,
4 Justina Lee, Yu-Huay Sun, and Adela Lin, Taiwan’s Tsai Vows Economic Fix While Keeping Peace with China, Bloomberg, January 17, 2016, h ttp://
5 Lawrence Chung, Taiwan election: Tsai Ing-wen is Taiwan’s first female president after landslide victory in historic poll, South China Morning Post, January 16, 2016,
6 About選舉分析明細, Central Election Commission,
7 Members’ Biographies, Legislative Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region,
8 2000 Legislative Council Election Results, Registration and Electoral Office,
9 2012 Legislative Council Election results, Registration and Electoral Office,
10 Members’ Biographies, Legislative Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region,
11 Article 33, Legislative Yuan Organization Act, November 14, 2012, . Retrieved on January 6, 2015.
12 Prior to 2005, legislative elections were held using a combination of proportional representation and the single non-transferable vote system. Both of these systems favour smaller parties rather than larger parties.
13 Elections,,
14 Lam Wai-Man, Contemporary Hong Kong Government and Politics: Expanded Second Edition, 115, Hong Kong University Press, July 2012.
15 Information Note: Proportional Representation Electoral Systems, Provisional Legislative Council Secretariat, 1998,
16 The "Hare Quota" refers to a type of electoral method used as a part of the proportional representation system. Under the Hare Quota, any candidate who reaches the number of votes established by the quota formula is automatically elected. The formula is equivalent to the total number of votes cast for all candidates in a given constituency divided by the total number of seats in the constituency. Any votes that a candidate receives in excess of the quota are transferred to the remaining candidates on their candidate list. For this reason it is difficult for large parties to win more than one seat per riding when the Hare quota is used. As a result, they often split into smaller parties or lists.
17 The largest remainder system is another type of electoral system under proportional representation which can be used in conjunction with the Hare quota. Under the largest remainder system, after all candidates meeting the Hare quota have been awarded seats, the remaining seats are allocated to candidate lists with the largest remaining number of excess votes, in descending order, until no more seats are left.
18 Ibid 13.
19 Jeffrey Sachs, The Price of Civilization, New York: Random House (2011). p. 107.
20 Ibid 13.
21 Voters also will not want to divert votes from an ideologically similar candidate in a way that allows an unfavourable candidate to win, as was the case in the hypothetical election with Tsai Ing-Wen’s victory. Thus, over time, voters will be inclined to support candidates from larger and more mainstream parties that have a greater chance of winning, rather than supporting fringe candidates from less well-funded groups.
22 Tom Lansford, Political Handbook of the World 2014, CQ Press, March 2014, Pg. 290.
23 Will the Taiwan Solidarity Union disappear?, September 3, 2015,
24 However, five PFP candidates who ran with the joint endorsement of the PFP and the KMT were elected in 2008.
25 第 07 屆 立法委員選舉(區域) 候選人得票, Central Election Commission,
26 Ibid 23.
27 S.C. Chang, Younger generation set to remake Taiwan’s legislature, Focus Taiwan, January 17, 2016,
28 About 選舉分析明細類, Central Election Commission,
29 For instance, in 2008, the TSU and the PFP failed to meet the 5% threshold, meaning none of their candidates were elected.
30 Ibid 25.
31 再批「一中同表」黃昆輝:洪擺明是中國代言人, Liberty Times Net, June 29, 2015,
32 Ibid 23.
33 Lorand C. Laskai, Taiwan’s Newest Political Party was Co-Founded by a Tattooed Rockstar, Foreign Policy, November 19, 2015,
35 Chen Yi-wei, Heavy metal star elected legislator, Focus Taiwan, January 16, 2016, .
36 Information Note: Proportional Representation Electoral Systems,
37 Functional constituency elections are not part of this article’s analysis because they are not open to the general public. Thus it is not appropriate to speculate on the reasons why small parties do not merge for the FC elections, despite the fact that they use FPTP.
38 Composition of the Legislative Council,,
39 For example, the DAB ran three different party lists during the 2012 Legislative Council elections for the New Territories West constituency. One seat was awarded to each of the party lists. In this way the DAB was able to maximise its seat share given the amount of votes it received.
40 Lam Wai-Man, Contemporary Hong Kong Government and Politics: Expanded Second Edition, 115, Hong Kong University Press, July 2012.
41 Ng kang-chung and Tony Cheung, Significant victories for Hong Kong’s “umbrella soldiers” in district council elections, South China Morning Post, November 24, 2015,
42 Shrinking Umbrellas, Bauhinia Foundation Research Centre, November 23, 2015,