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  • Taiwan in Transition
  • Tun-jen Cheng (bio) and Stephan Haggard (bio)

For nearly four decades the authoritarian rule of the Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang (KMT), in Taiwan was stable and seemingly unchallengeable. By the mid-1980s, however, the KMT could no longer maintain this steady state, and democratic forces advanced. The scope of political discourse and electoral competition widened as the government lifted various authoritarian restraints, most notably a martial law decree which, until its repeal in July 1987, had been the cornerstone of KMT rule since 1949. As civil society reasserted itself, new arenas and arrangements for political contestation gradually began to take shape. Opposition organizations and parties emerged to test the regime's tolerance. Finally, in elections held in December 1989, legal opposition parties competed for the first time and scored significant gains in both local and national races.

The transition process in Taiwan raises a number of theoretical and practical issues. To date, two theoretical approaches have dominated studies of comparative democratization. The first focuses on the "preconditions" for democracy. Virtually all of the socioeconomic correlates of democracy that theorists of modernization have isolated—rising per capita income and high levels of urbanization, industrialization, literacy, and mass communication—are now present in Taiwan. As Lucian Pye has recently suggested, Taiwan is "possibly the best working example of the theory that economic progress should bring [End Page 62] in its wake democratic inclinations and a healthy surge of pluralism, which in time will undercut the foundations of the authoritarian rule common to developing countries."1

We know from history, however, that modernization does not necessarily guarantee democratic politics. Rapid development can itself be destabilizing. Moreover, there may be an "elective affinity" between certain growth strategies and authoritarian rule. For example, the export-oriented strategy pursued by the newly industrializing countries of East Asia may have depended on the political passivity or control of labor and the general absence of leftist or populist political parties—conditions unlikely to obtain in a democratic polity.

These observations point to several methodological failings of the "preconditions" approach to democratization. The analysis of preconditions is necessarily static; rather than explaining how the democratic threshold is actually crossed, it simply assumes that increasing demand for democratization eventually yields its supply. The economic preconditions approach also ignores historical legacies that may offset unfavorable preconditions. Stable democracy has long existed in the absence of "necessary" socioeconomic conditions in countries such as India, Costa Rica, and Colombia.

Taiwan's favorable socioeconomic preconditions are matched by several liabilities. First, democratization poses greater difficulties for a one-party regime than for a military dictatorship. The KMT's raison d' être is political rule, and it possesses a powerful organizational reach and a justifying ideology. Democratization thus requires a fundamental transformation of the ruling party from an entity closely intertwined with the state to an independent political organization competing with other parties for electoral support. In contrast, military rulers have alternative roles which may even be strengthened by a retreat from politics.

Second, Taiwan's colonial legacy is less auspicious for democratization than that of many other developing countries. Its political institutions were shaped not by liberal democratic Western powers, as in the case of the Philippines or the former British colonies, but by authoritarian Japan, the Soviet Union, and Nationalist China. Taiwan's "decolonization" took the form of a wholesale transfer of power and resources from a defeated Japan to the KMT, a party organized on Leninist lines in the 1920s. This process occurred without the social and political mobilization fostered by nationalist independence movements elsewhere. An outside power, the KMT, established political control over the domestic politics of a subject Taiwanese population largely excluded from political representation.

The main alternative, or supplement, to the preconditions approach to democratization emphasizes the processes by which democratic forces in society emerge, grow, and outmaneuver an authoritarian regime to establish a new institutional framework. First outlined by Dankwart A. [End Page 63] Rustow and recently elaborated by Adam Przeworski, this process-oriented approach identifies the agents of political change and analyzes the bargaining situations they face with both the regime and possible coalition partners.2

Although we will also consider the preconditions...


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