Taiwan's State and Social Movements under the DPP Government, 2000-2004
Ho, Ming-sho, Journal of East Asian Studies
This article explores the evolution of social movement politics under the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government (2000-2004) by using the perspective of political opportunity structure. Recent "contentious politics" in Taiwan is analyzed in terms of four changing dimensions of the opportunity structure. First, the DPP government opens some policy channels, and social movement activists are given chances to work within the institution. Yet other features of the political landscape are less favorable to movement activists. Incumbent elites' political orientation shifts. As the economic recession sets in, there is a conservative policy turn. Political instability incurs widespread countermoblization to limit reform. Last, the Pan-Blue camp, now in opposition, devises its own social movement strategy. Some social movement issues gain political salience as a consequence of the intervention of the opposition parties, but its excessive opportunism also encourages the revolt of antireform forces. As a result of these countervailing factors, social movements have made only limited gains from the recent turnover of power.
KEYWORDS: social movement, democratization, political opportunity, Taiwan, Democratic Progressive Party
The rise of social movements has been an integral dimension of democratization in Taiwan. Social protests of various issues emerged as early as the time when the political opposition coalesced into the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in 1986. Disadvantaged sectors such as farmers, workers, and marginalized ethnic minorities made use of the liberalized political atmosphere to launch collective actions. A commentator characterized this proliferation of social protest as "a demanding society." (1) As a powerful force, social movements changed the political landscape. Antipollution protest helped to erode the local clientelism of the Kuomintang (KMT), while the labor movement undermined the party-state infrastructure in the factory. The political activism of the urban middle class was channeled into effective education reform and antinuclear movements. At the same time, the DPP sought to incorporate these reform demands into its political agenda. Social movements became politicized and came to have a vital stake in party politics.
After a fiercely competitive presidential election in March 2000, the DPP ousted the incumbent KMT, which had ruled Taiwan for fifty-five years. The assumption of power by an opposition political party produced a favorable environment for social movements. Given the DPP's previous alliance with movement sectors, it was expected that relations between the government and social movements would improve. The DPP advocated a broad series of political reforms, which were largely welcomed by the social movement circle. The fact the DPP did not possess the personnel to take over the reins of national government opened up the prospect that movement leaders might be invited to share power and thus have the opportunity to introduce significant policy changes. However, post-KMT political developments proved unexpected for movement activists. At best, social movements made only limited gains during the first term of Chen Shui-bian (2000-2004). The DPP government was crippled from the very beginning by not possessing a parliamentary majority. When it sought to promote those reforms desired by social movements, opposition parties were often able to block their initiatives. In addition, the DPP hesitated on certain reform pledges and then took a more conservative turn as the economic situation worsened in 2001. The political imperative to boost economic performance made the DPP elites less willing to respond to the interests of social movements. Further, a new wave of popular protests began to target reforms that the social movement sector had achieved. With the rise of these countermovements, reform advocates faced an uphill battle in widening the reform agenda.
"In the past we did not have the opportunity; now we do not have the capacity," as a Taiwanese women's movement activist succinctly described the recent situation. (2) Why did Taiwan's social movements fail to secure significant policy gains as a result of the DPP's electoral victory? In this article, I seek to untangle the knotty combination of favorable and unfavorable factors that helped social movement activists gain institutional access to political power while at the same time limiting their actual policy impact. To do this, I employ the political opportunity structure approach. This concept helps to decompose the political environment of DPP government into several analytically distinct, yet structurally related, aspects. As a result, we can map out the overall environment facing movement politics and specify both the enabling conditions and the restraining ones.
I draw on three social movement cases: the labor movement, the environmental movement, and the education reform movement. Although these movements had different constituencies (i.e., industrial workers, rural residents, and urban middle class), they all aimed at progressive reforms that redistributed power and resources in favor of the underprivileged. In terms of their collective action repertoire, these movements frequently used mass demonstrations to pressure reluctant officials. To use David Rucht's classification, they were "power-oriented" rather than "identity-oriented." While identity-oriented movements tend to focus on the cultural sphere, shying away from involvement with the state, power-oriented movements adopt instrumental action to change current policy. (3) Given this explicitly political emphasis, the effect of these movements is largely determined by the shifting political environment.
The DPP Government as a Political Opportunity Structure
The political opportunity structure refers to the ever-changing degree of regime openness to social movement claims. Social movement scholars use this term to understand the uneven distribution of social protests. Certain political regimes are more prone to incur widespread extrainstitutional participation than others. (4) Social protests also tend to cluster in time. (5) To explain these phenomena, scholars contend that regimes differ in their tolerance regarding protest behavior, which affects the cost-benefit calculation of would-be protesters. It is widely agreed that the political opportunity structure undergoes a periodic cycle of expansion and contraction even within the same regime. (6) Accordingly, social movements follow different trajectories of ups and downs.
To understand the DPP government as a new political opportunity structure for the social movement sector, it is important to clarify some conceptual issues. First, this concept is not a dichotomous one. According to Doug McAdam, the state is best conceptualized as a composite system that exerts different and even contradictory influences on social movements at the same time. For example, while sympathetic incumbents are important for ensuring that movement demands are placed on the political agenda, their weakness vis-a-vis the opposition can compromise actual results. Since a state is not a monolithic entity, the political opportunity structure is best viewed as multidimensional; a movement faces both facilitating conditions and constraining ones at the same time. As McAdam suggests, specifying the dimensions of the political opportunity is a key to this research strategy. (7) Both Sidney Tarrow and McAdam have suggested a list of relevant dimensions of the political opportunity structure, including (8) the existence of political channels, degree of political stability, availability of political allies, and state repression. It should be noted that this inventory is not to be taken as an invariant formula to deal with all research questions, but must be customized to fit particular cases. In this study, I propose the following dimensions to understand the specific situation under the DPP government.
1. Political channels. This term refers to routine accesses to the decisionmaking process. As a component of the political opportunity structure, the availability of political channels affects the behavior of social movement organizations. With the possibility to work within the state, movement strategy tends to be more assimilative than confrontational. (9) As movement activists gain new avenues, it becomes possible for them to gain "insider" status and to use this leverage to engineer policy change. Consequently, the likelihood of movement success is enhanced.
2. Incumbents' orientation. Hanspeter Kriesi and his colleagues use the term "prevailing strategy" to understand the government's informal procedures for dealing with collective challengers. It can be broadly classified as either exclusive or integrative, depending on the ruling elites' perception and assessment as well as preexisting political tradition. (10) In this article I use the term "incumbents' orientation" and distinguish between a reformist or conservative line. As expected, the more proreform the incumbents are, the more likely that social movements receive favorable responses.
3. Political stability. Electoral instability in a liberal democracy encourages "challengers to try to exercise marginal power." (11) Unstable elite alignment signals the possibility of new coalitions emerging. One of the political ramifications is that incumbent elites have to spend extra attention on grieved sectors to prevent further erosion of their political base. The elites' concessions are …
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Publication information: Article title: Taiwan's State and Social Movements under the DPP Government, 2000-2004. Contributors: Ho, Ming-sho - Author. Journal title: Journal of East Asian Studies. Volume: 5. Issue: 3 Publication date: September-December 2005. Page number: 401+. © 2009 Lynne Rienner Publishers. COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group.
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