Deepening Democracy in Taiwan under Democratic Progressive Party
Rup Narayan Das

The consolidation and deepening of democracy in Taiwan as evident from the regular and periodic elections and peaceful transfer of political baton from one political party to another speak volume of the democratic culture and tradition of Taiwan. The way Taiwan has protected and promoted democracy against the backdrop of the Communist regime in mainland China is admirable and awe inspiring, more particularly after the pandemic COVID-19. China has attempted to crush the yearning for democracy in Hong Kong abrogating the commitment of ‘one country, two systems’; as promised in the ‘Joint Declaration’ and the ‘Basic Law’ and now it is intimidating Taiwan. It is heartening to note that many democratic countries have realised the Chinese machinations and are supportive of Taiwan’s fight for democracy. The US being the most vocal one.

A joint statement issued by G-7 Foreign Ministers after their meeting on 5th May this year urged for Taiwan’s participation in both the World Health Organisation (WHO) and World Health Assembly (WHA). In the first face-to-face Conference since 2019, Foreign Ministers from the member countries- the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the US attended the meeting in London. The Foreign Ministers from Australia, India, South Korea and South Africa were also present. In the statement the G-7 Foreign Ministers stressed the importance of global cooperation on important matters by ensuring ‘inclusive’ process in participation in World Health Organisation and World Health Assembly saying worldwide community should be allowed to draw on the experience of all partners. The ministers lauded Taiwan for its “successful” contributions to the tackling of COVID-19 pandemic. The ministers also expressed their concerns about the situation in the East and South China Sea and emphasised the “importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.” They called for a peaceful resolution of cross Strait issues and reiterated opposition to “unilateral actions that could escalate tensions and undermine regional stability.1

Since Taiwan had first election in 1996, it has witnessed strengthening of democratic institutions. Since then there have been regular and periodic elections in Taiwan in 2000, 2004, 2008, 2012, 2016 and in 2020. This is something very remarkable. The two major parties i.e. the KMT and the DPP dominate the narrative of democracy and electoral politics in Taiwan. There are, of course smaller political parties. The political spectrum in Taiwan is divided into two main camps based on their policy of engagement with the Mainland. The KMT led coalition with which the New Party is aligned favours closer cooperation with the Mainland; while the DPP and the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) favour a pro-Taiwan policy. DPP maintains that it cannot accept becoming part of China under ‘one country, two systems’.

It is not only periodic elections, but also other democratic institutions such as the independent judiciary, the rule of law, the free press, the civil service and the civil society have been rejuvenated under the rule of DPP. Taiwanese military is professionalised and insulated from political interference for partisan objectives. The Taiwanese version of democracy has acquired unique characteristics. It is not an imitation of western model of democracy, but native to the social and cultural milieu of Taiwan which supplement and complement the norms of democracy such as honesty, integrity and industrious nature of its citizenry, their empathy and fellow feeling as contrasted with individualistic nature of western democracy and the cosmopolitanism of Taiwan is unique. Its democracy is a fusion of western liberalism and oriental ethics and values.

The foundation and consolidation of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in Taiwan under the shadow of a powerful communist regime; defeating KMT which ruled the island nation for almost nine decades, first in Mainland China from the 1920s to 1949 and then from 1945 to May 2000 in Taiwan, is a saga in the narrative of democratic transition in the island nation. The KMT had been in power continuously for almost nine decades, first in Mainland China from 1920s to 1949 and then in Taiwan from 1945 to May 2000. The DPP is in existence for about two decades now and growing strong. According to Ambassador Ranjit Gupta, “… This remarkable political transformation must be considered an even greater achievement than the much acclaimed Taiwanese economic miracle…"2 For China the KMT was a known enemy and was committed to unification but now DPP is a sort of dangerous separatists.

The DPP which had no experience of governance earlier sprang a surprise by its liberal and democratic spirit of conciliation and accommodation. Burying the hatchet of electoral rivalry, President Chen Shui-bian appointed a former chief of General Staff and former Defence Minister Gen Tang Fei, a KMT veteran, as Prime Minister and a cabinet, of which the majority of ministers were from the KMT. Sensing the mood of the people even the KMT has recalibrated its traditional stance towards the Communist regime in the mainland. In March this year the leader of the KMT, the main opposition Party in Taiwan Johnny Chiang said in Taipei that he was in no rush to travel to China to meet the Chinese President Xi Jinping. He said. “We can wait for a better timing, but it needs to be meaningful, respectful.” He added, “the timing needs to be right, but more importantly there needs to be pre-condition of equality and dignity, and it should be beneficial for Taiwan. Articulating further he said that China’s offer of using ‘one country, two system’ to entice Taiwan with high degree of autonomy, like how Beijing is supposed to run unrest hit Hong Kong, has “no market” on the island, where people like their freedom…We are already used to this kind of life style”.3

Endnotes
  1. “G-7 issues statement backing Taiwan’s entry into WHO, WHA”, Taiwan News, 6th May 2021,https://www.taiwannews.com.tw/en/news/4196234
  2. Ambassador Ranjit Gupta, in the Foreword, Taiwan today, (Edited)Anita Sharma &SreematiChakrabarti, Anthem South Asian Studies, 2007
  3. “Taiwan opposition chief in no rush for China meeting”,https://www.reuters.com/article/us-taiwan-politics-idUSKCN2AU0IV

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>


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