Becoming Electable: The Causes of the Successes and Failures of Opposition Parties in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan
Sung, Jeongah Lauren
In the past twenty years, opposition parties in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan have been experiencing different levels of success in elections, despite similarities in the three countries’ institutions (particularly the electoral system) and political history. While Duverger’s Law predicts that the three countries, with their single member district focused electoral system, will tend toward a Westminster model of two-party rivalry over time, whether this is truly the case remains to be seen. The apparent collapse of Japan’s main opposition party following the 2012 elections, as well as the recent rise of third parties in Korea and Taiwan, present important questions about the direction of these Asian democracies.In this paper, I use a model based on electoral game theory to outline the conditions required for an opposition party to win an election, drawing upon existing scholarship regarding resource advantage of dominant parties and incumbency advantage. I argue that two conditions are required of opposition parties and their leaders to succeed in their electoral campaigns: 1) legitimacy as the leader of the opposition and 2) an appropriate and rational issue-frame that distinguishes the opposition party from the incumbent and panders to public opinion. I then test my model through empirical testing of past presidential/general elections in the three countries, and find that opposition parties across the three countries have experienced, or are still experiencing difficulties in transitioning to become a catchall, centrist party.In tandem with providing a recent political history of competitive democracy in Japan, Korea and Taiwan, this paper contributes to the literature on the comparative politics of Asian democracies and the evolution of politics post-democratization.
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