Modern Taiwan might appear to have the trappings of a democratic system — such as popular elections and political parties — but the sad truth is that the country’s political and judicial systems are being manipulated in such a way that elections in Taiwan are not free and fair. Without free and fair elections, Taiwan is not a fully functioning democracy.
In the past 70 years, Taiwan has transformed dramatically: from part of the Japanese empire, to an authoritarian state governed under martial law, to having a president elected by popular vote for the first time in 1996.
Today, on the surface, Taiwan appears to be a democratic success story. The dream of a flourishing democracy in Taiwan is on the brink of being fully realized.
However, while Taiwan has made tremendous strides, much work remains to be done.
The US has played a critical role in paving Taiwan’s path to democracy so far, and its ongoing support is necessary to ensure Taiwan’s democracy continues to thrive.
Taiwan’s democracy is only 20 years old, born as a last-ditch concession by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) as it finally began to buckle under the pressure of relentless protests by the freedom-loving Taiwanese. The KMT also acquiesced to placate the international outcry over its authoritarian rule, especially from the US. Only as the result of these circumstances did the KMT agree to end nearly four decades of dictatorship and allow Taiwanese to vote for their legislators and president.
In fact, it was a mere political ploy. The KMT calculated that it could continue to monopolize the political power while maintaining the veneer of a democratic system.
However, an extraordinary event occurred during the 2000 presidential election, when former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) became the first non-KMT president of Taiwan, prevailing over two major contenders who split the pan-blue camp vote.
In 2004, an assassination attempt that injured both Chen and former vice president Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) the day before the election galvanized voters to re-elect Chen by a razor-thin margin of 0.228 percent.
During Chen’s two terms, his attempts to enact reform and to bring about true democracy in Taiwan were thwarted by the KMT-controlled legislature.
The KMT regained power in 2008 with the election of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九). Since that time, the democratic reforms that the Chen administration managed to implement have been reversed.
Even worse, to cover up the deterioration of Taiwan’s democracy, Ma has launched a broad public relations offensive, including through academic and think tank conferences held in the US, to propagate the idea that Taiwan is a functioning and sound democracy ruled by popular will.
The deliberate misrepresentation of the true state of Taiwan’s political system is orchestrated to placate the Taiwanese and mislead our international allies into thinking that Taiwan is not an issue that requires continued attention.
In fact, both internal and external factors are working to strengthen the KMT’s hold on political power and foreclosing opportunities for real democratic progress in Taiwan.
Most critically, the country’s popular elections, the cornerstone of a democratic system, are tilted in favor of the KMT, for the following reasons: