Center for Electoral Forensics

Taiwan Presidential Election on 2016

[Flag of Taiwan]Taiwan is located off the southeastern coast of China, between Japan and the Philippines. With Japan to the north, China to the west, and the Philippines to the south, Taiwan has always been a location of strategic maritime importance since ancient times. It has played an important role in the development of Asia as well as in world history, politics and trade. The presidential elections of Taiwan also drew lots of attention due to the special position of Taiwan.

What does this election imply? Will the result change the relations between Taiwan and some of the major countries?

[Tsai Ing-wen]

President Tsai Ing-wen. Photograph courtesy her official page

Taiwan’s political system is much different from that of mainland China, they now enjoy a high level of openness and cultural diversity. Taiwan is a multiparty democratic regime headed by a popularly elected president and a unicameral legislature.

The government of the Republic of China contains five branches: the Executive Yuan, the Legislative Yuan, the Judicial Yuan, the Examination Yuan, and the Control Yuan. 

The Five Branches

  • The Executive Yuan: The Executive Yuan consists of two constitutionally distinct entities: the President and Vice-President of Taiwan and the Premier of the Executive Yuan. The President and Vice-President are jointly elected by popular vote every 4 years. They can hold their office for a maximum of two consecutive four-year terms. Furthermore, all acts of state are conducted in his name. The President is Taiwan’s head of state, commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and the representative of Taiwan in foreign relations and at state functions. The President appoints the Premier of the Executive Yuan, the Vice Premier of the Executive Yuan, and ministers.
  • The Legislative Yuan: The Legislative Yuan is the highest legislative body of the state, consisting of popularly elected representatives who serve for three years and are eligible for reelection. It is equivalent to the “parliament” of many Western democracies. The Legislative Yuan is unicameral, and consists of 113 legislators. The powers of the Legislative Yuan, which are only exercised on behalf of the people, include confirming emergency orders made by the ROC president; hearing reports on administration, revisions of government policy, and a report on the state of nation by the president each year.
  • The Judicial Yuan: The first ‘arm’ Judicial Yuan consists of a president, a vice-president, and a 15-member Council of Grand Justices, elected by the President, subject to approval of the Legislature. They serve staggered 8-year terms, and may not serve two terms consecutively.  In addition to exercising administrative supervision of Taiwan's court system, the Judicial Yuan also enforces judicial independence from the other branches of government in accordance with the Constitution.
  • The Examination Yuan: In Taiwan, as per the Constitution, all civil servants must pass examinations. The Examination Yuan administers civil service examinations and civil service employment and salary matters. It consists of a president and 19 members, all of who are appointed to six-year terms by the ROC president and confirmed by the Legislative Yuan.
  • The Control Yuan: The Control Yuan is responsible for correcting government officials at all levels and monitoring the government through the powers of impeachment, censure, and audit.  The Control Yuan's 24 members, including its president and vice president, are appointed to six-year terms by the ROC president and confirmed by the Legislative Yuan. 

Election System

The election of the President and Vice President of Taiwan is a direct election by the citizens of Taiwan. The most recent election took place on January 16, 2016.

The Presidential and Vice Presidential Election and Recall Act states that a candidate for President or Vice President must be an ROC citizen, at least 40 years old, and a resident of Taiwan for a period of no less than 15 years with physical presence for not less than 6 consecutive months.

The President and Vice President are nominated on a joint ticket. Political parties which have gained at least 5% of the votes at the last presidential or legislature election may nominate a set of candidates directly. For the 2012 and 2016 elections, only Democratic Progressive Party and Kuomintang are qualified to nominate candidates through this rule in the elections of 2012 and 2016.

Major Political Parties

Taiwan has three major political parties: the Kuomintang (KMT) party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), and the New Party. The KMT was Taiwan's ruling party from 1949 to 2000. The KMT approach to government was based on Sun Yat-sen's Three Principles of the People, which are nationalism, democracy, and social well-being. DPP is one of two major parties in Taiwan, along with the historically dominant Kuomintang. It has traditionally been associated with strong advocacy of human rights and a distinct Taiwanese identity. The current leader is President Tsai Ing-wen, the second member of the DPP to hold the office.

Issues of 2016

The most critical issue that people were looking at for this election is how the result will change the cross-strait relations. Cross-Strait relations or Taiwan-China relations are the relations between the following two political entities, the People's Republic of China and Taiwan. The level of tensions has ebbed and flowed, along with the various factors at play, but the key factor has always been the degree of enmity between Beijing and Taipei. A high level of tension entails the risk of wider conflict that might draw in the United States and leads each side to enlist Washington support.

Young people are seen as key to this election, as the disenchanted demography has little historical memory of China and view closer ties with Beijing as just further benefiting the business elite in both territories. Tsai’s winning will present China with a choice. Will it ignore its own principles for the sake of continuity and good relations? How much deterioration will it cause and how will Taiwan respond? Finally, how will the United States react to a cross-Strait dynamic that is more complicated than the one that it has enjoyed for the last eight years?

Election Results

On the election itself, Tsai Ing-wen, the DPP’s chairperson and presidential candidate, won with 56.1 percent of the vote. Eric Chu, the leader and candidate of the more conservative KMT, received 30.1 percent. James Soong, chairman of the People First Party (PFP), a small spinoff from the KMT, got 12.8 percent. This is the second time that the DPP candidate won in an open contest; Chen Shui-bian was the first to do so, in 2000, but only with 40 percent of the vote in a previous three-person race. 

This DPP victory is a lot like to the KMT’s in 2008, when voters rejected the eight-year presidency of DPP leader Chen Shui-bian. Tsai’s percentage this time is slightly less than the 58 percent that Ma Ying-jeou won in his first election in eight years ago (in 2008, the KMT won 81 legislative seats). Both elections have a “throw the bums out” flavor.

[outcome map]

Outcome of the 2016 Taiwanese presidential election.

Testing the Results

The Benford test is usually used in elections to detect fraud. Bedford's Law suggests that the frequency distribution of leading digits in many real-life sets of numerical data which arose from a log-uniform distribution follows the Benford distribution. We can use the first and second digit test to see if there were evidence of unfairness. For this Taiwan election, we also were able to obtain the invalid vote counts, so we can study this election not only from the aspect of Benford's Law, but also from the aspect of differentiation invalidation.

The Benford Tests

Since we were studying the election result at the city level, we obtained the leading digit of the votes for Chu and made a frequency distribution of the leading digit. A graphic of the tabulated data is presented below. Note that this graphic includes the expected frequency and the observed frequency. Performing the first-digit test on this data (via the chi-square test) produces a p-value of 0.6737. Since this is bigger than α, we do not reject the null hypothesis.

[histogram of Benford-1]

Histogram of the observed leading digits for Chu (blue) and for the expected frequency under the Benford distribution (green).

For the distribution of the second digits, we use the same approach (see figure below). The chi-square goodness-of-fit test produces a p-value of 0.8292.

[histogram Benford-2]

Histogram of the observed second digits for Chu (blue) and for the expected frequency under the Benford distribution (green).

For both of these digit tests, the p-value is greater than the usual α = 0.05. As such, neither Benford test was able to detect a violation of its assumption. We cannot conclude evidence of electoral fraud here.

Invalidation Rates

In the study of unfairness in election, we can also try to connect the invalidation votes with the support votes of certain candidates in order to observe whether there is a relationship between the invalidation rates and the support rate. The previous election put the Koumintang (KMT) in power. Thus, if a party were able to illegitimately influence the outcome of the election, it would be their candidate, Chu. As such, we focus on the effects of differential invalidation on his supporters.

The closest distribution for the invalidation votes in an election would be Binomial distribution. If there is no differential invalidation, that is if each candidate had the same probability that their ballots were invalidated, then the parameter π in Binomial distribution would be a constant (the regression curve would be horizontal). The results of performing maximum quasi-likelihood estimation on the described generalized linear model are given in the graphic below.

[invalidation plot]

Invalidation plot for Eric Chu at the city level. Note that while the curve slopes upward, the variance is quite high.

The p-value for the slope is 0.3280. As this is greater than α = 0.05, we did not detect a relationship between the invalidation rate and the support level for Chu. In other words, we did not detect differential invalidation in this election. There is no evidence that Chu's ballots were discarded at a significantly higher rate than were Tsai's.


The article provided a brief introduction about Taiwan's political system and also reviewed the background of Taiwan’s democratization and how it affected the island’s relations with both China and the United States.

In terms of testing for evidence of unfairness and fraud, we checked both for manual alteration of counts through the Benford test as well as for differential invalidation through a regression test. Neither Benford test showed evidence of fraud in this election. But this only tests one aspect of fraud. For the differential invalidation aspect, we also did not find evidence for concern.

Official electoral body Central Election Commission (English)
Election January 16, 2017
Results Official

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