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Politics of Taiwan

The Republic of China (ROC) currently has jurisdiction over Taiwan, Kinmen, Matsu, and the Penghus (Pescadores Islands) and several of the smaller islands. Taiwan's two major cities, Taipei and Kaohsiung, are centrally administered municipalities. The rest of Taiwan and the Penghu Islands are administered together as the Province of Taiwan. Kinmen, Matsu, and smaller nearby islands are administered as counties of Fujian Province.

The ROC is governed under the Constitution of the Republic of China which was drafted in 1947 before the fall of Mainland China and outlined an government for all of China. Significantly amendments were made to the Constitution in 1991, and there have been a number of judicial interpretations made to take into account the fact that the Constitution covers a much smaller area than originally envisoned.

Until 1991, the government in Taipei claimed to be the sole legitimate government of all of China, including the mainland and outer Mongolia. In keeping with that claim, when the nationalists fled to Taipei in 1949, they re-established the full array of central political bodies, which had existed on the mainland in Nanjing. While much of this structure remains in place, the President Lee Teng-hui in 1991 unofficially abandoned the government's claim of sovereignty over mainland China, stating that they do not "dispute the fact that the Communists control mainland China." However, the National Assembly has not officially changed the national borders, as doing so would be seen as a prelude to Taiwan independence.

The National Assembly, elected on the mainland in 1947 to carry out the duties of choosing the president and amending the constitution was re-established on Taiwan when the government moved. Because it was impossible to hold subsequent elections to represent constituencies on the mainland, representatives elected in 1947-48 held these seats "indefinitely." In June l990, however, the Council of Grand Justices mandated the retirement, effective December 1991, of all remaining "indefinitely" elected members of the National Assembly, Legislative Yuan, and other bodies.

The second National Assembly, elected in 1991, was composed of 325 members. The majority was elected directly; 100 were chosen from party slates in proportion to the popular vote. This National Assembly amended the constitution in 1994, paving the way for the direct election of the president and vice president that was held in March 1996. The National Assembly retained the authority to amend the constitution, recall or impeach the president and the vice president, and ratify certain senior-level presidential appointments. In April 2000, the members of the National Assembly voted to permit their terms of office to expire without holding new elections. They also determined that such an election would be called in the event the National Assembly is needed to decide a presidential recall or a constitutional amendment. The recent years, the National Assembly has handed most of its powers to the Legislative Yuan, including the power of impeachment.

The president is both head of state and commander in chief of its armed forces. The president has authority over the five administrative branches (Yuan): Executive, Legislative, Control, Judicial, and Examination. The president appoints the premier, the head of the executive yuan. The Executive Yuan comprises the premier and the cabinet members who are responsible for policy and administration.

The main lawmaking body, the Legislative Yuan (LY), was originally elected in 1947. The first LY had 773 seats and was viewed as a "rubber stamp" institution. Like the National Assembly, representatives elected in 1947-48 held these seats "indefinitely" until the 1991 ruling. The second LY was elected in 1992. The third LY, elected in 1995, had 157 members serving 3-year terms. The fourth LY, elected in 1998, was expanded to 225 members. The LY has greatly enhanced its standing in relation to the Executive Yuan and has established itself as an important player on the central level. Along with increasing strength and size this body is beginning to reflect the recently liberalized political system. In the 1992 and 1995 elections, the main opposition party--the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)--challenged the KMT dominance of the Legislature. In both elections the DPP won a significant share of the LY seats, and the KMT held only half the seats in the LY. In 1998, however, the KMT increased its LY majority from 50% to 55% and continued to play a dominant role in the legislature as the leading opposition party. In the 2001 election, the DPP became the largest party after large losses sufferred by the KMT.

As the National Assembly took action in 1994 to allow for the popular election of the president, the LY in 1994 passed legislation to allow for the direct election of the governor of Taiwan Province and the mayors of Taipei and Kaohsiung Municipalities. These elections were held in December 1994, with the KMT winning the governor and Kaohsiung mayor posts, and the DPP winning the Taipei mayor's position. In 1998, the KMT's Ma Ying-jeou wrestled back control of the mayorship of Taipei from the opposition DPP's most prominent figure Chen Shui-bian. In the same elections, however, the DPP's Frank Hsieh[?] managed to defeat Kaoshiung's KMT incumbent.

The position of elected governor and many other elements of the Taiwan Provincial Government were eliminated at the end of 1998. The stated purpose of this was to streamline administrative efficiency, but some commentators have argued that this was also intended to weaken the power base of Governor James Soong In November 1997 local elections, the DPP won 12 of the 23 county magistrate and city mayor contests to the KMT's 8, outpolling the KMT for the first time in a major election.

The Control Yuan[?] (CY) monitors the efficiency of public service and investigates instances of corruption. The 29 Control Yuan members are appointed by the president and approved by the Legislative Yuan; they serve 6-year terms. In recent years, the Control Yuan has become more activist, and it has conducted several major investigations and impeachments.

The Judicial Yuan[?] (JY) administers the ROC's court system. It includes a 16-member Council of Grand Justices (COGJ) that interprets the constitution. Grand Justices are appointed by the President, with the consent of the Legislative Yuan, to 9-year terms.

The Examination Yuan[?] (ExY) functions as a civil service commission and includes two ministries: the Ministry of Examination, which recruits officials through competitive examination, and the Ministry of Personnel, which manages the civil service. The President appoints the Examination Yuan's President.

Table of contents

Principal Leaders

  • President: Chen Shui-bian
  • Vice President: Annette Lu[?] (Lu Hsiu-lien)
  • Premier (President of Executive Yuan): Yu Shyi-kun
  • Vice Premier (Vice President of Executive Yuan): Lin Hsin-yi

Political Conditions

In March 2000, Democratic Progressive Party candidate Chen Shui-bian became the first opposition party candidate to win the presidency. His victory resulted in the first-ever transition of the presidential office from one political party to another in the ROC.

This change in the political process is the result of the liberalizing trend that began in the 1980s under President Chiang Ching-kuo. In 1987, he lifted the emergency decree, which had been in place since 1948 and which had granted virtually unlimited powers to the president for use in the anti-communist campaign. This decree provided the basis for nearly four decades of martial law under which individuals and groups expressing dissenting views were dealt with harshly. Expressing views contrary to the authorities' claim to represent all of China or supporting independent Taiwan independence was treated as sedition. Vice-President Lee Teng-hui succeeded Chiang Ching-kuo as president when Chiang died on January 13, 1988. Lee was elected by the National Assembly to a 6-year term in 1990, marking the final time a president was elected by the National Assembly. In 1996, Lee Teng-hui was elected president and Lien Chan vice president in the first direct election by Taiwan's voters.

Since ending martial law, the Republic of China has taken dramatic steps to improve respect for human rights and create a democratic political system. Most restrictions on the press have ended, restrictions on personal freedoms have been relaxed, and the prohibition against organizing new political parties has been lifted.

Political Parties

The aftermath of the 2000 Presidental election and the 2001 legislative election left the ROC fragmented among several political parties. These parties can be divided into "blue" factions (pan-blue coalition) and "green" factions (pan-green coalition), with the "blue" faction tending toward unification and a national identity that is linked with China and the "green" faction leaning toward a national identity based on Taiwan independence which is separate from the Chinese national identity. The complex structure of the party system in the ROC is also influenced by the voting system which uses single non-transferable vote for legislative elections and first past the post for executive elections.

The "blue" faction comes from the color of the Kuomintang and the includes the Kuomintang, the People First Party, and the New Party. The "green" faction comes from the color of the Democratic Progressive Party and includes the Democratic Progressive Party and the Taiwan Solidarity Union.

The Kuomintang (Nationalist Party) - Until 1986, Taiwan's political system was effectively controlled by one party, the KMT, the chairman of which also was the ROC president. Many top political officials were members of the party. The party claimed over 2 million members, and its net assets were reputed to total more than NT $61.2 billion, making it the richest political party in the world.

The Democratic Progressive Party - After 1986, the KMT's hold on power was challenged by the emergence of competing political parties. Before 1986, candidates opposing the KMT ran in elections as independents or "nonpartisans." Before the 1986 island-wide elections many "nonpartisans" grouped together to create Taiwan's first new political party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Despite the official ban on forming new political parties, Taiwan authorities did not prohibit the DPP from operating, and in the 1986 Island-wide elections DPP and independent candidates captured more than 20% of the vote.

The Civic Organizations Law passed in 1989 allowed for the formation of new political parties, thereby legalizing the DPP, and its support and influence increased. In the 1992 Legislative Yuan elections, the DPP won 51 seats in the 161-seat body. While this was only half the number of KMT seats, it made the DPP's voice an important factor in legislative decisions. Winning the Taipei mayor's position in December 1994, significantly enhanced the DPP's image. The DPP continued its strong showing in the 1995 LY race, winning 45 of the 157 seats to the KMT's 81. The DPP for the first time succeeded in outpolling the KMT in the November 1997 local elections, gaining 12 of the 23 magistrate and mayoral seats as opposed to the KMT's 8 and winning 43% of the vote versus the KMT's 41%.

The DPP membership is made up largely of native Taiwanese. The DPP maintains that Taiwan is an entity separate from mainland China and supports an independent "Republic of Taiwan" as part of its platform. The recent downplaying of Taiwan independence by the DPP as a party, however, led to the formation by hard-line advocates of a new political party called the Taiwan Independence Party in December 1996.

The New Party (NP) - was formed in August 1993, by a group made up largely of second-generation mainlander KMT members who were unhappy both with corruption in the KMT and with what they saw as the "Taiwanization" of KMT ideology and leadership. The NP emphasizes "clean government" and the original KMT focus on reunification with the mainland. NP influence remains modest and seems on the wane; it won 21 of the 164 LY seats in the 1995 elections but only 11 of 225 seats in 1998. The New Party was almost annihilated in the 2001 election as its members defected to the Peoples First Party.

The People's First Party (PFP) - A new opposition party was formed in the wake of the March 2000 presidential election by the runner up, a KMT maverick candidate. The People's First Party is composed primarily of former KMT and NP members who supported former KMT Taiwan Provincial Governor James Soong's presidential bid. The PFP currently had 17 members in the LY before the 2001 election, but increased its representation to over 40 in that election.

The Taiwan Solidarity Union - In 2001, former President Lee Teng-Hui helped to create the Taiwanese Solidarity Union (TSU). His primary motivation was his belief that his former party, the KMT, was moving away from his ideas of Taiwanese separatism.

Another party of note is Green Party Taiwan.

Although some friction between mainlanders and native Taiwanese still exists, it has abated with time, and there has been a gradual melding of the two communities. In 1972, then Premier Chiang Ching-kuo began a concentrated effort to bring Taiwanese into more senior position in the central administration and the KMT. Upon his accession to the presidency in January 1988, Lee Teng-hui, who is a native Taiwanese, continued this process. Steps by the authorities to redress past wrongs such as setting up a memorial to the victims of the February 28 incident have contributed to this process.

Taiwan and the Mainland

Despite the differences between Taiwan and the mainland China, contact between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait has grown significantly over the past decade. The R.O.C. has continued to relax restrictions on unofficial contacts with the P.R.C., and cross-Strait interaction has mushroomed. Since 1987, when the ban on travel to the mainland was lifted, Taiwan residents have made more than 10 million trips to the mainland. The ROC Board of Foreign Trade estimates that indirect trade between Taiwan and the mainland and Hong Kong, reached about $22.5 billion in 1998. This indirect trade runs heavily in Taiwan's favor, providing another outlet for the island's booming economy. In an attempt to facilitate trade, in 1995 the Executive Yuan approved the construction of an offshore transshipment center at the port of Kaohsiung through which direct shipping with the mainland would be permitted. In April 1997 the first sanctioned direct cross-Strait shipping began between selected mainland ports and Kaohsiung for cargo being transshipped through Taiwan.

Beijing has expressed a mixed view of these developments. P.R.C. leaders are pleased at the development of economic ties and exchanges, which they believe helps their cause of reunification. However, the increase in contacts, combined with domestic political liberalization on Taiwan, also has resulted in more open discussion in Taiwan of the future of Taiwan, including the option of independence, to which Beijing is strongly opposed.

The trend in cross-Strait interaction is one of steady growth with, so far, only temporary setbacks due to political factors such as Lee Teng-hui's private visit to the U.S. in 1995 and his 1999 characterization of relations with the mainland as "state-to-state." Taiwan business representatives have concerns about issues such as safety, corruption, and contract disputes, which have led to increased caution and a search for alternative investment venues but not to pulling out from the mainland altogether. President Chen has yet to revise the previous administration's "no haste, be patient" policy regarding Taiwan-mainland investment to prevent over-dependence on the P.R.C. As a result of this policy the ROC has placed restrictions on largescale infrastructure investments on the mainland in 1997. Despite this, billions of dollars have been invested in the mainland by smaller firms.

The development of semiofficial cross-Strait relations has been incremental. Prior to April 1993, when talks were held in Singapore between the heads of two private intermediary organizations--Taiwan's Straits Exchange Foundation[?] (SEF) and the mainland's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait[?] (ARATS)--there had been some lower-level exchanges between the two sides of the Strait. The April 1993 SEF-ARATS talks primarily addressed technical issues relating to cross-Strait interactions. Lower-level talks continued on a fairly regular basis until they were suspended by Beijing in 1995 after President Lee's U.S. visit. Unofficial exchanges resumed in 1997 through informal meetings between personnel of the two sides' unofficial representative organizations. Direct SEF-ARATS contacts resumed in April 1998, and the SEF Chairman visited the mainland in October 1998. A planned visit by ARATS Chairman Wang Daohan[?] to Taiwan in the fall, however, was postponed following statements made by then-President Lee Teng-hui that relations between the mainland and Taiwan should be conducted as "state-to-state" or at least as "special state-to-state relations." Since his May 20, 2000 inauguration, President Chen has called for resuming the cross-Strait dialogue without any preconditions. President Chen has stated that such talks should be conducted on the basis of the "spirit of 1992," a reference to the agreement to hold the 1993 Singapore talks. The P.R.C., however, has insisted that President Chen must recognize the "one China" principle before talks can be held.

Country name:
conventional long form: Republic of China
conventional short form: Taiwan
local long form: Chung Hwa Min Kuo
local short form: T'ai-wan

Data code: TW

Government type: multiparty democratic regime headed by popularly elected president

Capital: Taipei

Administrative divisions Since in the past the authorities claimed to be the government of all China, the central administrative divisions include the provinces of Fukien (some 20 offshore islands of Fujian Province including Quemoy and Matsu) and Taiwan (the island of Taiwan and the Pescadores islands); note - the more commonly referenced administrative divisions are those of Taiwan Province - 16 counties (hsien, singular and plural), 5 municipalities* (shih, singular and plural), and 2 special municipalities** (chuan-shih, singular and plural):

Chang-hua[?], Chia-i[?], Chia-i[?]*, Chi-lung[?]*, Hsin-chu[?], Hsin-chu[?]*, Hua-lien[?], I-lan[?], Kao-hsiung, Kao-hsiung**, Miao-li[?], Nan-t'ou[?], P'eng-hu[?], P'ing-tung[?], T'ai-chung[?], T'ai-chung[?]*, T'ai-nan[?], T'ai-nan[?]*, T'ai-pei[?], T'ai-pei**, T'ai-tung[?], T'ao-yuan[?], and Yun-lin[?], the provincial capital is at Chung-hsing-hsin-ts'un[?]

See also: Political divisions of Taiwan

National holiday: National Day, 10 October (1911) (Anniversary of the Wuchang Uprising)

Constitution: 1 January 1947, amended in 1992, 1994, 1997, and 1999

Legal system: based on civil law system; accepts compulsory ICJ jurisdiction, with reservations

Suffrage: 20 years of age; universal

Executive branch:
elections: President and Vice-President elected on the same ticket by popular vote for four-year terms; election last held 18 March 2000 (next to be held NA March 2004); premier appointed by the president; vice premiers appointed by the president on the recommendation of the premier


election results: Chen Shui-bian elected president; percent of vote - Chen Shui-bian (DPP) 39.3%, James Soong (independent) 36.84%, Lien Chan (KMT) 23.1%, Hsu Hsin-liang (independent) .63%, Lee Ao (CNP) .13%

head of governmentPremier (President of the Executive Yuan) Shyi-kun YU (since 1 February 2002) and Vice Premier (Vice President of the Executive Yuan) Hsin-yi LIN (since 1 February 2002)

cabinetExecutive Yuan appointed by the president

Legislative branch: Unicameral Legislative Yuan (225 seats - 168 elected by popular vote, 41 elected on the basis of the proportion of nationwide votes received by participating political parties, eight elected from overseas Chinese constituencies on the basis of the proportion of nationwide votes received by participating political parties, eight elected by popular vote among the aboriginal populations; members serve three-year terms)

The constitution has a provision for a unicameral National Assembly which had been 300 members elected by popular vote to serve four-year terms. As a result of a constitutional agreement, the National Assembly is suspended and only convened to consider constitutional amendements.


elections: Legislative Yuan - last held 8 December 2001 (next to be held NA December 2004); note - the National Assembly is a nonstanding body and is called into session
election results: Legislative Yuan - percent of vote by party - DPP 39%, KMT 30%, PFP 20%, TSU 6%, independents and other parties 5%; seats by party - DPP 87, KMT 68, PFP 46, TSU 13, independents and other parties 11

Judicial branch: Judicial Yuan, justices appointed by the president with the consent of the Legislative Yuan

Political pressure groups and leaders: Taiwan independence movement, various business and environmental groups
note: debate on Taiwan independence has become acceptable within the mainstream of domestic politics on Taiwan; political liberalization and the increased representation of opposition parties in the ROC legislature have opened public debate on the island's national identity; advocates of Taiwan independence oppose the ruling party's traditional stand that the island will eventually reunify with mainland China; goals of the Taiwan independence movement include establishing a sovereign Republic of Taiwan; other organizations supporting Taiwan independence include the World United Formosans for Independence and the Organization for Taiwan Nation Building

International organization participation APEC, AsDB, BCIE[?], ICC, IOC, WCL, WTrO

Flag description red with a dark blue rectangle in the upper hoist-side corner bearing a white sun with 12 triangular rays

See also : Taiwan, Republic of China, black gold, iron votes



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