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Taiwan’s democracy movements can be a precedent for the Mainland
Yu Jie
4/25/2004

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Since information in China is restricted, the news about Taiwan’s open election can only be partially seen through the Hong Kong Phoenix TV broadcast, which clearly shows a bias. Despite this, in the open election, the two presidential candidates Lien Chan, and Chen Shui-bian’s debate on TV was very refreshing one to me. Although I don’t really like either of these two candidates--Lien Chan has the attitude of the privileged class, and Chen Shui-bian focuses too much on political strategies--it is the first time in Taiwan’s history that presidential candidates have held a debate on TV.

In some of the Chinese chat rooms, there has been discussion about whether Chinese President Hu Jintao would have the courage to have a debate on TV with Chen and Lien about the ideas of reunification and independence, and be willing to broadcast it live for the world to see. I remembered in the 1989 Beijing students movements then-Premier Li Peng had been pushed back to the point where he was muffled by student leaders Wang Dan and Wu ErKai-xi, young men who were less then 20 years old. Chinese Communist Party’s leaders read several pages of the prepared statement and were still unable to deal with it. They did not dare to go on TV and have a debate, it is not only that they did not have the knowledge; it’s also that they did not have the eloquence.

As an outsider to Taiwan’s open election, I had not felt like quite an observer. To me, Taiwan’s democracy movements can be a precedent for Mainland China. The most ideal condition for the advancement of China’s democratization is the “Taiwan model” (although the “Taiwan model” has many insufficiencies and flaws). Taiwan’s democracy has not been through all the large-scale bloodshed, violence, and changes of political parties, and also occurred through peaceful elections. The freedom of the press and the oppositions’ legal standing seem to both co-exist at the same time. The army quickly transformed from “the Party Force” into the “Government Troops,” only bearing the duties of national defense without interfering with internal affairs. All these experiences are very valuable to China. Taiwan’s democracy movement is roughly sketched out in the events listed below:

In 1987 Chiang Ching-kuo announced that the Taiwan region was no longer under martial law. From that point forward other political parties became legal, and freedom of press was granted.

In January 1988 Chiang Ching-kuo died and Lee Teng-hui became president. Chiang Ching-kuo’s death ended Taiwan’s Chiang family’s kingship, and the idea of military rule came to an end.

In 1989, according to the newly passed “Citizen Organization Law” the non-KMT personage made the Democratic Progressive Party and obtained legal status as an official opposition party. During the same year, the Tiananmen Massacre occurred and the democratic movement was targeted in the massacre; China had once again returned to a dictatorship, and the citizens of Taiwan were disappointed regarding the unification.

In 1991 came the reelection of all representatives. Representatives who were selected in 1949 from the Mainland resigned from office, and more Taiwan natives served in the government. In the year following would come the reelection of the legislatures.

1994 saw the elections of Taiwan’s governor and the mayors of major cities (Taipei, Kaohsiung.) Amendments were made to the constitution that same year to allow the direct election of the president. Regarding the reelection of governors, James Soong from the Kuomintang was elected to be the people’s governor. Chen Shui-bian from the Democratic Progressive Party was elected as Taipei’s mayor, making it the first time the head executive position in Taipei was held by a member of an opposition party. In the Kaohsiung mayoral election, Wu Den-yih from the Kuomintang was elected.

1996 marked the first time that a president was elected directly; incumbent president and vice president, Lee Teng-hui and Lien Chan, representing the Kuomintang, were reelected with 54 percent of the vote.

In 1997 the county magistrate and mayoral elections were held. Of the 23 counties and cities, the DPP won 12 counties and cities, surpassing the KMT for the first time in controlling the counties and cities. It appeared that the KMT was beginning to be surrounded by DPP-controlled areas. The KMT government began to “simplify the provincial government.” They halted the election of provincial representatives and governors.

It was in 1998 that the second direct elections were held for major cities and Legislative Councils. Taipei’s mayoral election was won by the former executive minister Ma Ying-jeou representing the Kuomintang, defeating the incumbent mayor Chen Shui-bian. In the Kaohsiung mayoral election, the incumbent mayor Wu Den-yih lost to Frank Hsieh from the DPP. In the Legislative Council, Kuomintang took over half of the seats, though the DPP was still the largest opposition party.

In 1999 the Kuomintang’s Lee Teng-hui prepared to step down from his role of president; the proposed alliance of Lien Chan and James Soong did not work out, so the Kuomintang named Vincient Siew as Lien Chan’s running mate. James Soong also decided to join the election as an independent. Former chairman DPP Hsu Hsin-liang also announced that he would leave the party and join the election. Lee Ao was not a member of the Chinese New Party but represented CNP for the election.

On March 18, 2000 the second direct presidential election was held. DPP’s candidate Chen Shui-bian won the election with 39.3 percent of the vote, which ended the over 50 years of Kuomintang rule. On May 20 of the same year, Chan Shui-bian and Annette Lu were sworn into office. After losing the presidency, Lee Teng-hui resigned his position as the chairman of the party. With 36.84 percent of the votes, James Soong established the People First Party, which became the third strongest political force in Taiwan.

2001: Lee Teng-hui’s supporters established the “Taiwan Unity Alliance” and become another pro-independence political party besides the DPP. The Kuomintang revoked Lee Teng-hui’s party membership. On December 1 the first Legislative Council and county-level election was held since the DPP became the ruling party. In the Legislative Council, the DPP won more seats than any other party, and the KMT lost many seats. The PFP also won some seats, but no party took the majority.

In 2002, the Taipei and Kaohsiung mayoral and city council elections were held. Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou ran for reelection, while the DPP nominated Lee Ying-yuan for election. For the mayor of Kaohsiung, the Kuomintang nominated Huang Jun-ying to battle with the incumbent mayor, Frank Hsieh from the DPP. The election ended with both Ma Ying-jeou and Frank Hsieh winning reelection.

Today, China not only doesn’t have any party to oppose to the Communist Party, even the village elections are also lagging behind, and can’t compare to Taiwan’s democratic system. To advance China’s democracy, we need both open-minded leaders in a one-party system, people such as Chiang Ching-kuo; and we also need the wisdom and courage of the intellectuals. But mostly we need modern citizens who love our nation and freedom. Taking Taiwan as a model may be China’s best road to proceed. From this perspective, Taiwan, although much smaller, has huge significance on China’s democratic movement.

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