The Development of Inner-Party Democracy in Taiwan: Consequences for Taiwan's Party Politics
A talk by Dafydd Fell (SOAS)
On October 25, 2007, Dafydd Fell (Lecturer in Taiwan Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies) spoke on party politics and the development of inner-party democracy in Taiwan. From a scholar’s perspective the political system in Taiwan is of interest because not only is Taiwan the only Chinese multi-party democracy, it is also the only Chinese liberal democracy. Furthermore, Taiwan's parties have taken a development path in sharp contrast to those seen in other new democracies. And, Taiwan has what may be the most institutionalized political parties and party system in Asia. While in Japan and Korea political parties have incessantly split and merged, the Taiwanese party system has been relatively stable. The same two political parties -- the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), and the Kuomintang (KMT) -- that contested the first multi-party election in 1989 remain dominant.
However, the stability of Taiwan’s political parties is relative, not absolute. Both the DPP and the KMT have had the experience of members splitting to form new parties. While the DPP and the KMT have survived these splits, the departure of leading figures to form new parties threatens the electoral success of parties they abandon. Thus, from the perspective of the DPP and the KMT, it is crucial that the loyalty of members he secured. Fell argues that a central factor influencing the stability of party membership is how candidates are selected. As he pointed out, little has been written on this subject in English. His research thus fills an important gap.
Fell places each Taiwanese political party’s nomination system on a scale from totally authoritarian (with closed member-only primaries) to totally open (where candidate selection involves public opinion polls and open primaries). There has been, Fell noted, a significant shift in recent years from the former to the latter. Before 1989, the KMT nomination system was similar to that in the well-known centralized European model: the party center had the decisive say on the selection of party candidates. Thereafter, the KMT introduced primaries, but rather quickly succumbed to pressure from several influential leaders and began to recentralize the nomination process. More recently, however, the party has swung back toward more inclusive and open primaries in the hope that party unity can be enhanced.
In the DPP too, Fell pointed out, candidate selection has been a divisive issue. Over the years, the DDP has changed its policy on primaries nearly ten times, and still has not found a system on which there is consensus among party members.
In Fell’s analysis, candidate selection systems are a fundamental part of inner-party democracy: systems that are open, decentralized, and inclusive tend to promote inner-party democracy and party stability and cohesion. The parties in Taiwan have generally moved away from authoritarian modes of nomination to more open systems. This should act to reduce the likelihood of rebel candidates splitting off and to increase success rates in elections. However, as Dr. Fell pointed out, the trends have not been one-directional, and both major parties have followed a zigzag course.
The main problem with the operation of primaries in Taiwan, Fell argued, is not so much deficiencies in the primary system, but that leading figures and cadres at the center of both parties are fearful of losing control over the nomination process and are thus
unable to remain neutral in the process.
In his research, Fell has also looked at any possible correlation between the nomination systems in Taiwan and gender, age and faction. He found no clear relationship with these variables. However, he did find what he considered a very clear relationship between an open nomination process and the success of mainland ethnic candidates.
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Dafydd Fell (PhD, Politics, SOAS, London) is a Lecturer in Taiwan Studies in the Department of Politics and International Studies, and a Research Fellow in Taiwan Studies with the Department of Financial & Management Studies, at SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies). Since 2003 he has been the Coordinator for the SOAS Taiwan Studies Programme and the European Association of Taiwan Studies. He has published articles on political parties and electioneering in Taiwan. His first book, Party Politics in Taiwan (Routledge), appeared in 2005. In 2006 he coedited an anthology, What Has Changed? Taiwan Before and After the Change in Ruling Parties (Harrassowitz, 2006).
Published: Tuesday, November 18, 2008