Government and Politics in Taiwan

By Jonsson, Gabriel | China Perspectives, October 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

Government and Politics in Taiwan


Jonsson, Gabriel, China Perspectives


Daffydd Fell, Government and Politics in Taiwan, London, Routledge, 2011, 278 pp.

Government and Politics in Taiwanis a new textbook by Daffydd Fell, Deputy Director of the Centre of Taiwan Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. The author is "an experienced teacher and scholar" who has used numerous sources, in- cluding his own works from 2002-2011, carried out many interviews, and benefited from his long acquaintance with a country that, apart from its elections, attracts little reporting by the Western media.

Fell writes (p. 2) that "one of the motivations of this volume is to introduce modern Taiwanese politics from a comparative political science perspective and hopefully inspire readers to delve deeper into the subject." The intro- duction also records some basic data such as the holding of multi-party elections in 1989 and the first direct presidential elections in 1996 as well as the subsequent change of government in 2000 from the Kuomintang party (KMT) to the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and in 2008 back to the KMT. Notably, Fell also writes (p. 4): "Despite its democratic flaws, Taiwan is evidence that Western democracy can work in Chinese or other Confucian societies." The chapter ends, as all the others do, with discussion points and suggestions for further reading enhancing the study's value as a textbook.

Chapter 2 explains how Taiwan was governed under martial law from 1949-1987, but it begins by discussing the political legacy of the Japanese colonial period (1895-1945). When Taiwan was subsequently ruled by the Republic of China (ROC), its rule went wrong quickly. The 1947 2.28 incident was the main backlash and is a long-standing controversial issue. The KMT brutally suppressed the protest instigated by the arrest of an illegal cigarette vendor after the Taiwanese retaliated against mainlanders. An estimated 10,000 people were killed, causing lasting tensions between the two groups. However, the KMT managed to recover and delivered political stability and economic success while the country was a one-party state. The authoritar- ian era has continued to affect politics through its impact on institutions, political parties, political issues, and the island's international status.

Chapter 3 reviews Taiwan's democratisation since the 1980s, attributed to KMT policies, pressure from the United States, and the "demonstration effect" from the fall of Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines in 1986 and the downfall of communism in Eastern Europe. The Presbyterian Church and the student movement also contributed. In 1989, the formation of political par- ties was legalised. In 1990, a national conference on political reforms gave further impetus to the process that Taiwan-born President Lee Teng-hui (1988-2000) implemented successfully. When presidential elections were held in 1996, the non-governmental organisation Freedom House regarded Taiwan as a free country. Freedom House has carried out surveys since 1972 to rank countries on scales of political and civil rights ranging from not free, to partly free, to free. In 2000, Taiwan was even regarded as a model of democracy in Asia, but opinions are divided on how democracy has worked since.

Chapter 4 introduces Taiwan's government structure in its democratic era. The ROC Constitution from 1947 has remained in force, but a few revisions have been made. Whereas the KMT wished to maintain indirect presidential elections, the DPP wanted to implement direct elections that eventually became one of the constitutional revisions in the 1990s. Later, in 2005, sin- gle member districts were introduced, and the National Assembly was abol- ished and replaced by the Legislative Yuan. The number of legislators was halved from 225 to 113 and their terms extended from three to four years so that it would correspond with the President's term.

Chapter 5 looks at Taiwan's electoral politics. Elections have been held at some level during 19 of the 25 years that have passed since the DPP was set up in 1986. …

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