EXCERPT | Polarity and Democratic Process in Taiwan, a Cross- Strait Perspective
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EXCERPT | Polarity and Democratic Process in Taiwan, a Cross- Strait Perspective

By Ghazali Bello Abubakar
Sokoto State University, Sokoto, Nigeria

EXCERPT | Polarity and Democratic Process in Taiwan, a Cross- Strait Perspective

Image Attribute: Honor guard at Taipei's presidential palace. / Source: Wikimedia Commons/Creative Commons/Taiwan Presidential Office

Republic of China (ROC) was one of the founding members of the United Nations at the end of the Second World War in 1945. Nearly three decades later, due to the lack of international recognition, the (ROC) lost her seat as Permanent Member of the United Nations Security Council (P-5), which has gone to the People Republic of China (PRC) following her expelling from the United Nations by Resolution 2758. Subsequently, Taiwan, under the KMT led government started suffering from the international diplomatic isolation, which lasted until today.

This sporadic intermittence indeed paralyzes Taiwan, and polarizes its internal politics into two wings: Pan-Blue Coalition political groups comprise those support unification with mainland China and choice Chinese identity rather than separate Taiwanese. The second is Pan- Green Coalition group of who favor independence with new Taiwanese national identity. The current incumbent Taiwanese president set out democracy, economic development, and equitable wealth distribution as conditions to achieve the goal of unification. However, this alliance rejects the immediate unification until if PRC can entertain these together with other conditions including permission to return the body of Chiang Kai-Shek to his ancestral place in the mainland China.

Romer Cornejo argues that the expel was one of the first heavy blows that hit Taiwan only to serve an extraordinary force toward democratic transitional exercise overtaking the old authoritarian system, which has been emboldened by the Kuomintang nationalist party. Since then, Taiwan manages democratization and transformation gradually until 1996 when it gone for her first historic presidential polls ever happened in modern day Taiwan.

In the first two-year period, the president Chen’s administration take what could have been a totally opposite direction from the previous administration to shape the island policy in and outside the country. These were set of trends that affect various sectors and decentralized the direction of Taiwan’s domestic politics. Parenthetically, Republic of China (ROC) replaced by Taiwan on passport and other traveling documents. Nevertheless, school curriculums are being revised to centralize much of their focuses on mainstream Taiwan instead of ROC which, according to Chen, is the synonymous word to mainland China. These and other key issues are among the absolutely opposite aims of the KMT.

This did not catch many experts of East Asian and Taiwanese domestic politics by surprise, simply because DPP emerged as the first opposition native party in Taiwan; and secondly, the party comes to being alongside political movements demanding democracy and reforms during the 1970s and 1980s. These characterizations empower the party in trying to ensure desensitizing Taiwanese identity and culture. With the development of modern technology and awareness, cultural and ideological domination is becoming seldom. Hence, the Taiwan’s political structure evolves very rapidly, and the demands for democracy especially among the young men and women who were born some 25-35 years ago, are reasonably so high.

Such changes and revisions seemed chiefly general. They carried out a palpable slogan of political implications in Taiwan during the DPP led administration. The occurrences are capable to axiomatically identify the classical stance of the two political groups and their roles in shaping the domestic politics of Taiwan; and thus, in both of the cases, the implications for cross-strait relations are extensively clear. Therefore, one must not forget that the paralysis of diplomatic isolation which has been disturbing Taiwan for many decades are fruits of the factors that have direct contact with what is popularly referred as ‘Cross-Strait relations’ to avoid possible interwoven in the given terminology.

Interestingly, the two camps (KMT and DPP), despite their divergent policy mainly on China, still they appear to seek common ground on many issues including fighting corruption, upgrading social welfare and infrastructure, though during the DPP led administration, there were several derelictions as well as charges on corruption and malfeasance tragedies in government, and of course it has been the source of allegation against the party.

These elections served as a first incremental test of the democratization process in the island. Although holding regular elections or multiplying party organizations alone does not necessary grant the stable state of democracy; democratic institutions must get support from the various interest groups only they can operate appropriately. Several nations in the third world underwent this kind of political therapy individually, but lacking strong political institutions is yet affecting their efforts.

Over the past four decades or so, multiple vicissitudes try to shape the Taiwanese democratization agenda. This transformation has drastically started somewhere in the late 1970s and early 1980s; just like many other countries in the world only to coincide what Samuel Huntington themed “ the third wave” when dozens of nondemocratic nations across the world have fully or partially converted to the democratic political system.

This move has particularly increased the numbers of democracies especially in Eastern Europe, Africa, and Asia. However, this could not aggregately end the authoritarian regimes but was able to undermine their prolonging influences in more than one part of the world compared to the 1950s and 1960s or even earlier. During those days, Taiwan was struggling for self-government, and determination; denied by the government of People Republic of China (PRC). Moreover, the communist government was in support of North Korea’s intention to invade the South in June 1950. This was an alert that made United States resume direct military ties with the Republic of China (ROC) or Taiwan immediately. Subsequently, in 1954 U.S. signed a mutual military defense treaty with ROC [1]. This ratification remained in force for three decades serving as one of the longest mutual agreement between U.S. and ROC.

As for Taiwan, the period covered between the 1950s and early 1980s that turmoil was not just internal political imbalance, but it was also threat by nearby neighboring China. PRC was bidding for one, and the only China. This policy aimed at thwarting political legitimacy and self-determination of Taiwan. In the recent contemporarily time, Taiwan’s democratization process appears to be one of the most successful democratic stories in the world.

Despite the transition had, from the very beginning, been launched through what could be seen as soft pressure, it was also aptly incremental in nature. Initially, the process was a transition from within the authoritarian nationalist single party, the KMT. The party’s move was a doorway for the future presidential elections of 1996. KMT transformed its manifesto to accommodate and pave the way for future and long awaited ambition of Taiwanese people. This was not less than true liberalism and democratic leadership within their territorial boundaries. Four years later, another smoother transition took place by electing a president from the long opposition party DPP in the year 2000.

Throughout this gentle process of liberalization, with the exception of the 1947 massacre in which thousands of peoples were murdered by Chiang Kai-shek’s troops [2]; the step-by-step moving toward a stable state of democracy in Taiwan is said to be quite peaceful. Although, the process, according to Shelley Rigger, consolidation of democratic atmosphere in Taiwanese environment was not that easy, because it was such kind of series of pressures and counter-pressures, compromises, negotiations and pacts between the authoritarian regime led by KMT and other opponent groups, which managed to consume many lives whose belonged to the membership of both parties. Nevertheless, at the end, it had brought about a smoother political change in Taiwan more than ever before and placed the country ahead of many other nations in the third world in terms of peaceful political transition [3].

Some writers such as Christian Schafferer, argue that the deep legacies that had been left behind by the authoritarian government together with prolonging martial law (1949-1987) have become undeniable challenges to newly democratic consolidation especially after electing DPP into office in 2000 [2].

The sentimental attachment of political domination in the post-war Taiwan, have of course changed the mainland Chinese nationalism to more specifically and narrowly Taiwan patriotism ideology in the 1990s. This has created political frontier between the two places, People/Republic of China (mainland China and Taiwan), and marked the more political opening and wider democratization in Taiwan [3].

The KMT, which happened to serve political desire in mainland China for a long time, 70 percent of its members during the 1980s were of Taiwan nationals. Despite the fact that the party’s 2.4 million members were Taiwanese, mainland Chinese members occupied the important key positions of the party. Apart from this, second blow that hit the party was internal fragile over the contents of the proposed reformation exercise. The moderate KMT members whose were composed of both mainlanders Chinese and Taiwanese have come clearly in supporting the proposed demand of political reform in Taiwan giving the special emphasis on the reformation of the internal structure of the KMT political platform itself.[1]. Rigger [3] considers this as one of the unique factors that try to shape the political development in Taiwan over a long period.

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Cite this Article:

Abubakar GB (2016) Political Polarization and Democratic Process in Taiwan: Implications for Cross-strait Relations. J Pol Sci Pub Aff 4: 223. doi:10.4172/2332-0761.1000223


[2] Schafferer C (2009) Democratic Transition, Political Culture, and Social Change in Taiwan. Lecture delivered on 28-29 September 2009 at University of Vienna: Austria. 

[3] Rigger S (1999) Politics in Taiwan. London: Routledge.