The Role of Minor Political Parties in Taiwan

By Copper, John F. | World Affairs, Winter 1993 | Go to article overview

The Role of Minor Political Parties in Taiwan

Copper, John F., World Affairs

Until the late 1980s, Taiwan, officially known as the Republic of China (ROC), was generally viewed as having had a one-party political system dominated by the Nationalist party or Kuomintang (KMT).(1) There were two other small parties, but forming new political parties was against the law. In 1987 this changed: martial law was terminated and establishing new political parties was legalized. Within a few months, Taiwan had a host of new political parties. For a time, Taiwan's polity seemed to be changing from a one-party system to a multi-party system (though with a dominant party). After the December 1989 election, when the Democratic Progressive party (DPP) turned in an impressive performance and was credited by virtually all of Taiwan's newspapers as having "won" an election victory (though this did not mean a majority or even a plurality, but rather major gains in popular vote and seats), while other opposition parties performed poorly or not at all, observers began to talk about Taiwan's party system becoming a two-party system.(2)

Advocates of a two-party system, however, were less sanguine after the DPP suffered a setback in Taiwan's 1991 National Assembly election.(3) Having not performed well even though changes were made in both the election law and the political system itself that advantaged the major opposition party and in an election of all new delegates - not a supplementary election as all of Taiwan's elections prior to 1991 had been - the DPP's future did not look so promising. In this election minor parties also performed poorly. Thus, in early 1992, it was commonly heard that Taiwan's party system was going to be a one-party-dominant system. Supporters of the two party argument, though, were once again encouraged after the 1992 Legislative Yuan election when the DPP bounced back from its setback of the previous year and "won" another election, in fact, with even more impressive results than in 1989.(4)

According to most observers, Taiwan's two older minor parties never played a significant role in an election or in Taiwan politics generally. After 1987, even though new parties were allowed to form and were given an opportunity to compete, little changed. It is also a widely held opinion that the future role of the minor parties will not be significant. Others, however, say that Taiwan's political system, particularly its party system, is still in the formative process, with democracy still maturing. They also point out that some aspects of the electoral system favor small parties as does current factionalism in the two major parties. And, in Taiwan's political system forming new parties is easy. Hence the minor parties cannot be dismissed so easily. Clearly, they say, their role and influence deserve further thought.(5)

In the pages that follow, the author will assess the role of minor parties before and after martial law, the system in which they were established and now operate, the performance of the minor parties in the recent elections, and some other aspects of minor party politics. Finally, some scenarios regarding the future of minor parties will be discussed.



Before 1986, Taiwan had two minor "opposition" parties, both of which formed when the government of the Republic of China ruled all of China: the Young China party (YCP) and the China Democratic Socialist party (DSP). These two parties moved to Taiwan in 1949 with the ROC government. At various times after 1950, observers thought these parties might gain in membership and voter support and become something more than token opposition parties; this, however, did not happen.

The Young China party, founded in China in 1923, is the older of the two. It was formed by Cheng Chi, an intellectual who supported youth activism and opposed the growing influence of communism in China at the time. Cheng and his party advocated social revolution, based on the political philosophy of the French radical right, nationalism, and actions against foreign imperialism. …

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