Taiwan used to be credited for the economic miracle it created and was considered a role model for its "silent revolution" of democratic reform along "the third wave of democratization." After experiencing the first-ever transition of political parties, however, do people in this country really enjoy the democratic outcomes that have been established?
It seems that what Taiwan achieved in the last two decades was more of a "procedural democracy," rather than a "substantive democracy.
Embedded in this "hollow democracy" is the potential danger for political decay, which might undermine the efforts that the country has made over the past years.
Taiwan was lucky enough to survive the Asian financial crisis of 1997. The then-ruling KMT attributed a lot of the country's success to its own crisis management skills.
Nevertheless, what was revealed from the crisis was not just how the government would react to such a huge economic shock, but also inherent institutional problems.
The experiences of countries such as South Korea and Indonesia showed it was mainly "cronyism" -- the connection between government and business, be it conglomerates or organized crime -- that constituted the Achilles heel of countries that suffered during the economic disaster.
The bad news is that Taiwan will continue to move toward taking a similar path to the one that those countries were on, if the administration of Chen Shiu-bian
In Taiwan, the degree of social mobilization and the expansion of political participation has been high, especially since the lifting of martial law and the debut of open competition between political parties. However, the rates of political organization and institutionalization are relatively low. The result is a potential for political instability and disorder.
Even though the reform-minded Chen has taken over the presidency, "black gold" politics and government inefficiency have remained major concerns of the public. Reports released by some international risk-assessment companies all point to the fact that corruption and government inefficiency constitute the most important concerns of foreign investors in Taiwan.
The primary problem of politics and economics in Taiwan, therefore, is the lag in the development of institutions and the rule of law following rapid social and economic change.
Why has democratization in Taiwan bred corruption? First, democratization has created new sources of wealth and power whose relation to politics is undefined by the dominant traditional norms of society and who are not yet accepted as modern norms by the dominant groups within society.
Second, corruption in Taiwan's democratic transition is also related to the KMT's incorporation of these newly powerful groups and the efforts of these groups to make themselves effective within the political sphere.
What was responsible for this potential for crisis and instability? The answer is rapid social change and the rapid mobilization of new groups into politics, coupled with the slow development of political institutions.
The KMT's belief was that economic development would promote social stability while social development would promote political stability. And these two ideas constituted the base for the KMT's long rule.
Nevertheless, economic development and political stability are two independent goals, and progress toward one is not necessarily connected with progress toward the other. In some instances, economic development programs may promote political stability; in other instances they may seriously undermine it.