Academic journal article Journal of East Asian Studies

Institutionalized Uncertainty and Governance Crisis in Posthegemonic Taiwan

Academic journal article Journal of East Asian Studies

Institutionalized Uncertainty and Governance Crisis in Posthegemonic Taiwan

Article excerpt

The Global Wave of Democratic Governance Crises

March 20, 2000, constituted a milestone in Taiwan's modern political history. That day its electorate chose as president Chen Shui-bian, the candidate of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) who had been defamed as an antistate rebel only a decade before. The election also marked the end of the forty-year-plus hegemony of the Kuomintang (KMT, or Nationalists). That the DPP ascended to the island's supreme political office in spite of its rival's powerful organizational and economic arsenal suggested that the rules of the democratic electoral game finally took root in society, respected by all major political players to produce a peaceful and orderly regime change. Taiwan joined the club of consolidated democracies, so declared many observers. (1)

Although the DPP made its name by advocating Taiwan's independence, a venture yet to be endorsed by the majority in the electorate, (2) Chen's victory in 2000 owed not as much to his pro-independence electoral platform as to the severe public discontent over the rampant political corruption of the KMT regime and to the desire of society to upgrade Taiwanese democracy. (3) The three years following Chen's inauguration, however, followed an unexpected path. Whereas the relationship across the Taiwan Strait remained stable, with the two governments periodically making an overture for a dialogue in spite of Chen's occasional brave talks for independence, (4) domestic politics only continued to deteriorate. The executive and legislative branches remained in political gridlock. With Taiwan's fragile economy left unattended by the nation's political leadership, the economic growth rate plunged from 7.9 percent in the first quarter of 2000 to the negative by 2002, and the stock price index fell from 9,119 to around 4,500. (5) Meanwhile, China continued its rapid economic growth and military rise, shaking Taiwanese confidence in the nation's survival as a sovereign entity in competition with its rival across the strait.

Why did Taiwan suffer such a political and economic setback at the moment when it should have been celebrating the progress of its people's democratic ideals? The opposition parties--the KMT and the newly formed People First Party (PFP) in particular--blamed the president's refusal to share power with the majority in the legislative Yuan (parliament) as the cause of Taiwan's crisis in democratic governance. The DPP had its own scapegoat, blaming those opposition parties for exacerbating conflicts and prolonging legislative deadlocks. (6) Among scholars who searched for deeper causes, by contrast, the problem was systemic. Given Taiwan's semipresidential constitution, some argued, the political system could destabilize only if the Yuan remained fractured from within by multipartyism and led by a minority government, as it was under Chen. (7) Others pointed out that the weakness of the ruling party and the policy position of Chen Shui-bian drove the opposition parties into a strategy of political confrontation. (8) Still others saw national identity, or the lack or ambiguity of it, as the cause of the governance crisis, emphasizing that ethnic cleavages only escalated political conflict and diminished room for compromise among rival camps. (9)

This article aims to explain Taiwan's crisis of democratic governance in terms of the executive-legislative, president-bureaucracy, and party-state relationships. It will argue that Taiwan had basically solved the problem of institution-building before the regime turnover in 2000, and what governance crisis it has had since then has to do more with the mismatch between institutions and expectations than with the lack of institution-building per se. The article will also show that the defects in its institutional designs were actually legacies of Taiwan's unusual history of state-making and nation-building. The governance crisis in Taiwan arose from the institutionalization of unsolved pretransitional problems. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.