After the result of the March 18 presidential election became known, the most important milestone along Taiwan's political road to democracy became a reality -- the KMT being officially swept out of office after more than 54 years of rule over Taiwan. The next major event was Lee Teng-hui (
After the KMT's defeat, Lee was forced to relinquish the chairmanship, a seat that he has occupied for more than 12 years. What people couldn't take away from him, however, was the presidency. After all, his presidency was the result of an election. Interestingly enough, Lee won the position of party chairman through a power struggle, or a peaceful and bloodless "revolution."
Ironically, Lee was forced out of the chairmanship as a result of a revolution within the KMT as well. After his resignation, two elderly members of the KMT Central Standing Committee demanded the revocation of Lee's party membership. The treatment Lee faced cannot even begin to compare with the glory and exaltation of his two predecessors. Lee's power, which began with him taking over the party helm and ended with him finally having to give it up. The process "began with a revolution, and ended with a revolution."
French President Charles de Gaulle told philosopher Raymond Aron that "reforms in France only takes place during the time of revolts." These words are applicable to Lee as well.
Entering the fray
After Chiang Ching-kuo (
Getting a grip on power
Although Lee held the top government and party positions, he did not have any substantive power during the first two years. Lee himself once said that he considered not running for the 8th presidency because he knew that the election would be a life and death battle for many. Lee's statement reveals how fierce the internal struggle was for the KMT. Lee had his heart set on reform, but he had to face the old power faction of the party at the same time. Therefore, the struggle between the mainstream and non-mainstream factions of the KMT was essentially a struggle between the "Lee Teng-hui group" and the "non-Lee-Teng-hui group." This polarized antagonism was felt on the social and private levels simultaneously. Lee, on the one hand, engaged in reform, and, on the other, turned "reform" into a momentum for the struggle for power. He turned the private sector's support for reform and the "Lee Teng-hui path (
The "progressive" policies during Lee's administration such as the elimination of the "Temporary Provisions Effective During the Period of Communist Rebellion (
Of course, Lee's democratic reforms hold much historical significance. The crossover from a totalitarian rule under the two Chiang presidents to political democracy is the reason for Lee's reputation as "Mr Democracy."
The transition from the Chiang era to Lee era had much significance according to post-contemporary theory. Indeed, Lee, who simultaneously held the presidency and the KMT chairmanship, created a "break" or a "rupture" in both the party and the government.
The abolishment of the 40-year-old temporary provisions, the ending of a state of national emergency, the transformation from a "one-man dictatorship, a one-party totalitarianism" to "political party rivalry, popular presidential election" laid the groundwork for a KMT mutation. To the KMT, the transformation from the Chinese KMT to the Taiwanese KMT, and the intra-party struggles including the emergence of New KMT Alliance (
In terms of our constitutional system of government, the resignation of senior Legislative Yuan and National Assembly members and the re-election of these two bodies hollowed out the claim as the legitimate successor of the Chinese state. In terms of ideologies, a split between the "Great China" and "New Taiwan" consciousness appeared. The cross-strait relationship also shows the great strain as a result of the "special state-to-state" model (
Lee's reputation as "Mr Democracy" in the international community is definitely well-deserving. During the Chiang era, Taiwan was an "infamous" land. The international media had no interest in revealing any developments in Taiwan, except those that portrayed Taiwan in a negative light. In contrast, Taiwan has now obtained the stature of a model for a "political miracle." Between Lee's taking over of the presidency to Chen Shui-bian's (
Although "breaks" and "ruptures" were self-evident during Lee's 12-year rule, there were aspects that continued and succeeded the previous regime. These successions and continuations were failures of Lee's rule.
After Lee took over Chiang Ching-kuo's seat as chairman of the party, he not only continued Chiang's style, but in fact expanded the basis of the KMT rule. The struggle between the mainstream and non-mainstream was primarily over the control for party central, with the control for political administration as a secondary goal. How to control the party central became the most pressing issue for Lee.
The best way to maintain the existing pyramid form of the KMT control and to secure power was to have the chairman be the ultimate decision-maker. Therefore, there can be no popular election of the chairman, there can be no replacement of the designated members to the Central Standing Committee, and, in fact, the appointment of the chairman's successor was a matter entirely up to the chairman himself. It cannot be said that the KMT loss of power had nothing to do with Lee's ultimate appointment of Lien Chan (
Furthermore, Lee not only lacked the determination to do something about the vast KMT assets, but established an investment and management commission to systemized the party-owned businesses. Through constitutional amendment, the legitimacy of these assets was recognized.
One thing worth noting at the end is the centralization of local "black gold" influences. In order to secure power, Lee did not severe ties with the local vote-buying machines, and he sat idly by as the Legislative Yuan became infiltrated with elements of the mafia. As a result, the mafia made its presence known in both local and central governments.
The presidential election in 2000 was a major challenge for the KMT. Had Lien Chan won the election, it would have meant that everything the KMT had done in the past was still considered to be workable. Lien lost and the KMT has to tackle the task of "transformation."
Ending the struggle
However, one should never forget that the reason the KMT did not disintegrate after the ending of the Chiang era was precisely due to Lee's endeavor to nativitize the party. Lee relied on popular support to push for intra-party system and general political reforms. Without Lee, the KMT would have turned belly-up much sooner.
During the Chiang era, the Constitution was frozen, and all the political power was in the hands of one person and one party. The biggest contribution Lee made during his presidency was the implementation of a system of popular elections under which each person was allowed one vote.
Lee was able to terminate the intra-party struggle precisely because of the 1996 presidential election. Besieged by attacks from Lin Yang-kang (
In 1997, Lee decided to amend the Constitution. After DPP chairman Hsu Hsin-liang (
Under Lee's presidency, the Constitution was amended five times. The last amendment was the "downsizing" of the National Assembly. The bicameral structure intended by Lee had collapsed completely as a result of the KMT's defeat. The semi-presidential system produced by the 1997 constitutional amendment was obviously a product of compromises. A balance between five powers has obviously mutated toward a balance between three powers. An orientation toward the cabinet system had also begun to move toward a presidential system.
After the defeat of the KMT, the ultimate milestone to democracy was reached with the "rotation of ruling parties." DPP candidate Chen Shui-bian was elected as the 10th President. Lee's dream for a "peaceful transfer of political power" had finally been realized. One thing is certain: without Lee's endeavors and hard work in the preceding 12 years, even if a transfer of political power took place, it was not necessarily going to be "peaceful." This is the greatest contribution Lee has made for Taiwan.
Ching Heng-wei (
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