Written by Jonathan Sullivan.

Political parties have played a determining role in the shape and outcome of democratization processes in Taiwan. For much of the early democratization era the KMT was the only party, and much research has focused on the behaviour, composition and evolution of the party. Hood 1997 provides a balanced analysis of the contribution of the KMT to political liberalization, which acknowledges the external pressures on the party and the rise of the Dangwai opposition movement. It is particularly valuable for the insights it gives into the competition within the KMT. Rigger 2001 is the most authoritative account of the growth of the Dangwai and the transformation into the DPP in 1986. Rigger’s detailed and nuanced analysis charts the DPP’s emergence as a major political party, up to the point that Chen Shui-bian won the presidency. Chen’s victory (albeit a minority winner in a three horse race) appeared to mark a turning point in Taiwan’s political history, and (at the time) perhaps the start of the KMT’s decline as has happened to other one party regimes after democratization. The sense of uncertainty comes through in the analysis of the party’s disastrous presidential campaign provided by Hsieh 2001. It is useful to keep this in mind given the KMT’s resurgence in 2008 and predicted futility in 2016: party fortunes are cyclical and long periods of governing are frequently followed by difficult elections and periods in opposition. Despite Chen’s landmark and surprise victory, the DPP was ill equipped to govern, especially in the context of incomplete reforms, divided government and KMT obstructionism, as Wu 2002 demonstrates. The article benefits from being written by a US trained political scientist turned DPP politician who served as Taiwan’s representative to the US under Chen.

The DPP is by far the most successful and enduring of the parties established on Taiwan (i.e. not the KMT which was established in China), outlasting the Chinese New Party, Taiwan Solidarity Union and People First Party among others. Taiwan has evolved into a multi-party democracy, although the parameters of political competition are dominated by the KMT and DPP. As one strand of political science would predict, the two major parties converged on major issues as democratization progressed. Party preferences over time on a range of issues are analysed in the pioneering work of Fell 2005, an indispensable study of party politics, specifically focusing on party positions on various issues across a crucial period in Taiwan’s democratization process. Dense empirical analysis of party materials combined with interviews of party politicians make this the most authoritative work focusing on Taiwanese parties in the 1990s.

However, it is not just issues that differentiate parties or electoral candidates. Bosco 1994 presents a detailed picture of how factions intersect with issues and ideology to affect the mobilization of voters and electoral outcomes. Similarly, Hood 1996discusses the effects of democratization on the behaviour of KMT factions, and the refocusing of factional mobilization on delivering votes. Factions can also influence who is nominated for election, as Fell 2013 and Fell et al. 2014 show in their analyses of how parties select their electoral candidates. Candidate selection processes have changed over time partly in response to changing rules. Lin 2000 (another US trained political scientist turned DPP politician) shows that parties are highly adaptive to changes in the political environment, in particular showing how they have responded to the expansion of electoral competition. Focusing on a different aspect of political parties, Chen 2000 analyses the composition of party support across time, focusing on variables at the voter level across three different generations.

For much of Taiwan’s political history since 1945, the Legislative Yuan has been a marginal political institution. With democratization, the disbanding of the obsolete National Assembly and constitutional reforms, the Legislature has become much more influential. As the DPP found to its cost, controlling the legislature is a crucial source of power for a party wanting to implement or block a policy agenda. The transformation of the Legislature (from “rubber stamp” to “roaring lion”) is captured by Liao 2005, a historical analysis of the institution from 1950 to 2000. The relationship of the Legislature to other branches of government, and the nature of Taiwan’s political system, is not totally clear-cut, as Kucera 2002 shows.

The incomplete reforms enacted in the mid-1990s created great difficulties under conditions of divided government after 2000. Liao and Chien 2005 explore these difficulties with a close examination of the ROC Constitution. In addition to the Legislature’s position within the political system, another research interest concerns legislative elections and the electoral system used to elect legislators. Nathan 1993 analyzes the first non-supplementary election in 1992 while Chu and Diamond 1999 assess the effects of the 1998 legislative election on the consolidation of democracy. Of particular interest to Taiwan scholars and comparative political scientists, has been the SNTV electoral system, which was in effect prior to 2008, making Taiwan the last polity in the world to use it. Tsai 2005 focuses on the effects of SNTV on party strategy with regard to policy positions and factions while Hsieh and Niemi 1999 looks at the systemic effects of SNTV. Legislative elections since 2008, when the number of seats available was also halved, have taken place under the new and supposedly fairer MMD system. O’Neill 2013 assesses this supposition by comparing the performance of the DPP under the new and old systems.

Jonathan Sullivan is Associate Professor of Contemporary China at the University of Nottingham.


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