I May Dislike You

I May Dislike You—That Is Happy Democracy


United Daily News /Sean Chen

2014.09.14 02:05 am


I was invited to speak at CAAPS (Chinese American Academic Professionals Society) in the U.S. last month on the topic of “Taiwan’s subtle strengths”. After the meeting, President Chang of the association expressed that he had a question that was inconvenient to ask in public. The question was when will the ugly partisan fight between the Blue and the Green end, so that everyone can get back to doing things that need to be done? Why is it that some radical candidate would always appear? During the dinner party, I also met with several overseas Chinese who always return [to Taiwan] to cast votes in every election, but often regret that there is no one they like. On the contrary, there is always someone whom they extremely dislike, so that it was always a choice of lesser evil every time.


Hearing these talks reminded me of an article by Mr. Gong Sun Tseh, published in this newspaper on Oct. 8 last year [translator note: January 8, 2014]. Toward the end of that article, there was this paragraph: “I recently met a new friend. He is quietly promoting the Negative Vote concept…..Although there is a lot of room for discussion, but in Taiwan’s dilemma of either Blue of Green, it could be a wooden hammer.” Interestingly, I also met with this “new friend” of Mr. Gong Sun Tse last month after I returned from abroad. He explained his idea. The basic is that one person still has only one vote. He may cast a positive vote for someone he likes, or cast a negative vote against someone he dislikes. The negative votes will be deducted against the positive votes. This way extreme candidates might not be elected, conflicts will be reduced, allowing more space for rational debate.


As Mr. Gong Sun Tseh has stated, there is still much room for discussion about this concept. But it is worthwhile to use this concept as basis for further thinking. Another words, it is not an idea one might reject out of hand upon hearing. Co-incidentally, it is also a topic being discussed among a group of international scholars.


At Research Gate, which is a platform for academic discussion among international scholars, Jess Brewer of University of British Columbia in Vancouver, initiated a proposal in May of last year to reform elections: the Negative Vote concept. The basic idea is: each voter has one vote as usual but can cast that vote either for a desired candidate (a positive vote) or against the one they despise most (a negative vote). Brewer believes this should: yield near-100% voter turnouts; put an end to claims of "popular mandates" by least-of-two-evils candidates; and discourage extremists.


After his proposal was presented, there were 9 other academics participated in the on-line discussion, professors from Austria, India, France, Iceland, etc. responded that there were similar research or experiences in those countries and expressed doubt whether this system can be widely adopted.


In addition to expressing thanks to these responses, Brewer also explained further. He suspects at least half the people who do vote are voting for a candidate they dislike in order to "keep out" another whom they truly hate. This forced hypocrisy erodes anyone's dignity; many others avoid voting so that they don't have to lie. A Brazilian scholar questioned whether it is possible for a political party to manipulate the votes by purposely nominating someone despicable to attract the positive votes from the opposing camp. Brewer thinks the probability of that is low, since such a party will need to nominate two candidates or sacrifice some of its own positive votes, at the same time, voters are also not so easily fooled. The discussions also showed that all agree that NOTA(None of the Above) as practiced in Brazil and India is different from the Negative Vote proposal and is more suitable in societies that have compulsory voting.


Whether Negative Vote can be adopted will probably be debatable. But in Taiwan’s practice of democracy to-date, we should ask ourselves, have we not often heard these complaints around us: “There is no viable candidate, I don’t feel like going to the polls”. “No one is good. I had to vote for A so that B might not be elected.” “A is too extreme, must not let him win, but I don’t like B or C either”…etc. If these talks reflect reality, we would then have a strange situation: due to the inadequate nominations of the major political parties, some people abandon voting, some vote reluctantly, and all have to see the inadequate candidates and their political parties getting billions of subsidies, this is definitely not a happy democracy.


Negative Vote is not a mainstream thinking in the world. It is however undeniable that it will increase voter participation, which would make election results more representative. Those who are positively inclined toward a candidate will come out, those who dislike all candidates and originally planned to abandon voting will also come out because they despise certain particular candidate. The important thing is, in this process, the candidates will not dare to be too extreme because they might attract the negative votes. This way the political discussions may be more harmonious and rational. The political parties and their candidates can also gain an opportunity to reflect upon themselves based on the positive and negative votes they receive (including contrasting analysis with the positive and negative votes of the opponent), and understand the true likes and dislikes of the voters, and won’t be able to gloat on the winning that might include a lot of reluctant votes “with tear in their eyes”.


Negative Vote will not fully resolve the present ugly fights of the main parties, it might not even have a significant change on the election result, but it will release very different signals, increase harmony, and have at least the following benefits:

  1. It will not strip the voting rights of those who are dissatisfied with all candidates

  2. For those voters who voted for the “less evil” candidates, they will have a choice that better reflect their will

  3. Force the political parties to be more careful in their nomination to avoid attracting negative votes

  4. Subsidies to political parties and their candidates might be reduced as a result, the savings can be used for more public infrastructure.


Negative Vote system deserves consideration in our country. In this consideration process, the most difficult one is probably a matter of procedures. Because if we cannot expect the Legislative Yuan to be willing to discuss this issue as its passing might affect many of the current legislators, then it might be necessary to consider the more technically difficult process of citizen initiative or plebiscite.


(The author is currently a Senior Advisor to the President and Chair Professor in Law and Commerce at Soochow University).