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Success and Failure of New Parties in Taiwanese Elections

From: China: An International Journal
Volume 3, Number 2, September 2005
pp. 212-239 | 10.1353/chn.2005.0024

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China: An International Journal 3.2 (2005) 212-239

Dafydd Fell

This paper examines the development of new parties in Taiwan's post martial law era. After outlining the electoral records of the main attempts to challenge the electoral domination of the established parties, the variables determining new party success and failure are discussed. It is shown that if a new party has a convincing political platform, sufficient resources and can exploit its electoral environment, it can win seats in multi-party Taiwan.

New Parties in Multi-Party Taiwan

Although the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) allowed competitive local elections for most of Taiwan's 40-year martial law period, it effectively ran the island as a one party state. Parties such as the China Youth Party (Zhongguo qingniandang) and the China Democratic Socialist Party (Zhongguo minzhu shehuidang) were permitted to exist only to support the pretence that Taiwan was a multi-party democracy. Not surprisingly, these parties gained the nickname "flower vase parties" (huaping zhengdang). When dissidents attempted to form genuine political parties in 1960 and 1979, the KMT reacted harshly, arresting the movements' leading figures. Taiwan did not have its first multi-party election until 1986, when the three-months-old and technically illegal Democratic Progressive Party (Minzhu jinbudang, DPP) contested its first election. That year the KMT and DPP shared over 90 per cent of the vote and seat share in the legislative elections. In the subsequent 18 years Taiwanese party politics has shown much continuity, as even in the December 2004 legislative election the DPP and the KMT remained the dominant forces, winning a combined total of almost 70 per cent of the votes and three quarters of the seats. However, since the late 1980s new political parties have repeatedly challenged this electoral hegemony.

This paper seeks to examine the development of these new political actors. By 2004 there were 102 officially registered political parties in Taiwan. The new parties have had a considerable impact, as elections have shown there is often space for third parties. Although most attempts to break the domination of the KMT and DPP have been electoral flops, there have been some successes, as the proportion of votes received by third parties has gradually increased, reaching a peak of almost 30 per cent in 2001. In the mid-1990s, the New Party (Xindang, NP) was a major political player and since 2000 two new significant parties, the People First Party (Qinmindang, PFP) and the Taiwan Solidarity Union (Taiwan tuanjie lianmeng, TSU), have emerged. Between 2000 and 2003, the PFP appeared to have the potential to even replace the KMT as the largest opposition party. Nevertheless, after initial success, these new parties appear to have hit bottlenecks, and often slid into decline.

To gain a better understanding of the development of new political parties in Taiwan, this paper attempts to answer the following questions:

1. How should Taiwan's new parties be classified?

2. What types of parties have been the most successful?

3. What kind of political package do these parties need to bring electoral success?

4. What kind of resources do these challenger parties require?

5. What kind of political environment offers new parties the greatest chance of electoral success?

After introducing and classifying the main significant attempts to create viable third parties since the late 1980s, their respective election records are outlined. Next, the paper shows how the new parties' success or failure can be explained by the following explanatory variables: (1) their political project or platform; (2) their human and financial resources; and (3) their political opportunity structure or electoral environment. The Taiwan case reveals that as in mature democracies, new parties must overcome a host of barriers before becoming significant political actors. Firstly, to succeed, a new party requires a distinct party appeal that addresses salient political issues. There is also greater scope for Taiwanese parties focusing on older ideologies that have been diluted or neglected by the established parties than parties offering new ideologies. Since election campaigns in Taiwan are so expensive, new parties must have sufficient human, financial, organisational and media resources. Finally, to make an impact, new parties must be able to take advantage of their electoral...