The authorities in Taipei exercise control over Taiwan, Kinmen, Matsu, Penghu (Pescadores) and several other smaller islands. Taiwan is divided into counties, provincial municipalities, and two special municipalities, Taipei and Kaohsiung. At the end of 1998, the Constitution was amended to make all counties and cities directly administered by the Executive Yuan. From 1949 until 1991, the authorities on Taiwan claimed to be the sole legitimate government of all of China, including the mainland. In keeping with that claim, when the Kuomintang retreated to Taiwan in 1949, they re-established the full array of central political bodies, which had existed on the mainland. While much of this structure remains in place, the authorities on Taiwan in 1991 abandoned their claim of governing mainland China, stating that they do not "dispute the fact that the P.R.C. controls mainland China."
The first National Assembly, elected on the mainland in 1947 to carry out the duties of choosing the President and amending the constitution, was re-established on Taiwan when the KMT moved. Because it was impossible to hold subsequent elections to represent constituencies on the mainland, representatives elected in 1947-48 held these seats "indefinitely." In June 1990, however, the Council of Grand Justices mandated the retirement, effective December 1991, of all remaining "indefinitely" elected members of the National Assembly and other bodies.
The second National Assembly, elected in 1991, was composed of 325 members. The majority were elected directly, while 100 were chosen from party slates in proportion to the popular vote. This National Assembly amended the Constitution in 1994, paving the way for the direct election of the President and Vice President the first of which was held in March 1996. In April 2000, the members of the National Assembly voted to permit their terms of office to expire without holding new elections. The National Assembly elected in May 2005 voted to abolish itself the following month, leaving Taiwan with a unicameral legislature. The President is both leader of Taiwan and Commander-in-Chief of its armed forces. The President has authority over four of the five administrative branches (Yuan): Executive, Control, Judicial, and Examination. The President appoints the President of the Executive Yuan, who also serves as the Premier. The Premier and the cabinet members are responsible for government policy and administration.
The main lawmaking body, the Legislative Yuan (LY), was originally elected in the late 1940s in parallel with the National Assembly. The first LY had 773 seats and was viewed as a "rubber stamp" institution. The second LY was not elected until 1992. The third LY, elected in 1995, had 157 members serving 3-year terms, while the fourth LY, elected in 1998, was enlarged to 225 members. The LY has greatly enhanced its standing in relation to the Executive Yuan and has established itself as a major player on the central level. With increasing strength, size, and complexity, the LY now mirrors Taiwan's recently liberalized political system. In the 1992 and 1995 elections, the main opposition party--the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)--challenged the half-century of Kuomintang (KMT) dominance of the Legislature. In both elections, the DPP won a significant share of the LY seats, leaving only half of the LY seats in the hands of the KMT. In 2001, the DPP won a plurality of LY seats--88 to the KMT's 66, the People First Party's 45, the Taiwan Solidarity Union's 13, and 13 won by other parties and independents. In the December 2004 LY election, the Pan-Blue coalition won a slender majority of 114 of the 225 seats compared to the Pan-Green coalition's 101. The LY was halved in size from 225 to 113 seats by constitutional amendments in 2005. In the January 2008 LY election, the first to be held under this new structure, the KMT won an absolute majority of 81 seats to the DPP's 27 seats, with the remaining five seats going to independent and small party candidates.
In 1994, when the National Assembly voted to allow direct popular election of the President, the LY passed legislation allowing for the direct election of the Governor of Taiwan Province and the mayors of Taipei and Kaohsiung Special Municipalities. These elections were first held in December 1994. In a move to streamline administration, the position of elected Governor was abolished at the end of 1998, and most other elements of the Taiwan Provincial Government have been eliminated.
The Control Yuan (CY) monitors the efficiency of public service and investigates instances of corruption. The 29 Control Yuan members are appointed by the President and approved by the Legislative Yuan; they serve 6-year terms. In recent years, the Control Yuan has become more activist, and it has conducted several major investigations and impeachments. From January 2005 to August 2008 the Control Yuan was inactive because the Pan-Blue dominated LY has refused to approve the new slate of CY members proposed by President Chen. The new Control Yuan members appointed by President Ma took office on August 1, 2008.
The Judicial Yuan (JY) administers Taiwan's court system. It includes a 16-member Council of Grand Justices (COGJ) that interprets the constitution. Grand Justices are appointed by the President, with the consent of the National Assembly, to 9-year terms.
The Examination Yuan (EY) functions as a civil service commission and includes two ministries: the Ministry of Examination, which recruits officials through competitive examination, and the Ministry of Personnel, which manages the civil service. The President appoints the President and members of the Examination Yuan.
Vice President--Vincent Siew (Siew Wan-chang)
Vice Premier--Sean Chen (Chen Chung)
Legislative Yuan President--Wang Jin-pyng
Judicial Yuan President--Rai Hau-min
Defense Minister--Kao Hua-chu
Foreign Minister--Timothy Yang (Yang Chin-tien)
Minister of Justice--Tseng Yung-fu
Mainland Affairs Council Chairman--Lai Shin-yuan
Government Information Office Minister--Phillip Yang (Yang Yung-ming)
Cabinet Spokesperson--Phillip Yang (Yang Yung-ming)
Until 1986, Taiwan's political system was controlled by one party, the Kuomintang (KMT), the chairman of which was also Taiwan's top leader. As the ruling party, the KMT was able to fill appointed positions with its members and maintain political control of the island.
Before the 1986 island-wide elections, many "nonpartisans" grouped together to create Taiwan's first new opposition political party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Despite an official ban on forming new political parties, Taiwan authorities did not prohibit the DPP from operating, and DPP and independent candidates captured more than 20% of the vote in the 1986 elections. In 1987, President Chiang Ching-kuo ended the nearly 4 decades of martial law under which dissent had been suppressed. Since then, Taiwan has taken dramatic steps to improve respect for human rights and create a democratic political system, including ending almost all restrictions on the press. Vice President Lee Teng-hui succeeded Chiang Ching-kuo as president upon Chiang's death in 1988, and in 1990 the National Assembly (NA) elected Lee to a 6-year term as President, the final indirect presidential election conducted by the NA. Under President Lee, the Legislative Yuan (LY) passed the Civic Organizations Law in 1989, which allowed for the formation of new political parties, thereby legalizing the DPP. In 1992, the DPP won 51 seats in the 161-seat LY, increasing the DPP's influence on legislative decisions. Chen Shui-bian's victory in the Taipei mayoral election in December 1994 further enhanced the profile of the DPP, which won 45 of the 157 seats in the 1995 LY elections.
In 1996, the KMT's Lee Teng-hui was elected President and Lien Chan Vice President in the first direct presidential election by Taiwan's voters. In the November 1997 local elections, the DPP won 12 of the 23 county magistrate and city mayor contests to the KMT's 8, outpolling the KMT for the first time in a major election. In a three-way contest in March 2000, DPP candidate Chen Shui-bian became the first opposition party candidate to win the presidency. His victory resulted in the first-ever transition of the presidency from one political party to another, validating Taiwan's democratic political system. President Chen was re-elected by 50.1% of the popular vote to a second term in a very tight contest on March 20, 2004. The election was marred by a shooting incident the day before the election during which President Chen and his running mate Vice President Annette Lu were slightly wounded. While the opposition contested the results, it was the first time that the DPP had won an outright majority in an island-wide election. Taiwan's second democratic transition of ruling party followed the March 22, 2008, presidential election, which went decisively (58%) to KMT candidate Ma Ying-jeou. Together with the KMT legislative victory 2 months earlier, Taiwan now had a unified government under KMT control.
The March 2004 election also included two "defensive referenda." Historically, referenda have been closely tied to the question of Taiwan independence, and thus a highly sensitive issue in cross-Strait relations. Both referenda in 2004 failed to meet the required participation threshold of 50% of eligible voters, as did four more referenda held in conjunction with the 2008 legislative and presidential elections. The 2008 DPP referendum on joining the UN under the name Taiwan was especially controversial.
The final National Assembly passed a set of constitutional amendments in June 2005 that halved the number of LY seats from 225 to 113 and created single-member legislative election districts beginning with the January 2008 legislative election. The constitutional revisions also abolished the National Assembly and provided for the public to confirm or reject future constitutional amendments passed by the Legislative Yuan. President Chen's controversial efforts to promote a second round of constitutional revisions focused on changing the government structure were unsuccessful. The P.R.C. accused him of using the constitution issue to move Taiwan toward independence. While not entirely ruling out future constitutional changes, President Ma has stressed the need to implement rather than revise the constitution.
In the December 2004 legislative elections, the ruling DPP won a plurality with 89 of the 225 seats, gaining 2 seats more than it did in 2001, but the opposition KMT and its Pan-Blue allies continued to hold a narrow majority in the Legislative Yuan. The ruling DPP's inability to form a majority coalition led to gridlock in the LY until 2008. Following a landslide victory in December 2005 local elections, the KMT won the 2006 mayoral election in Taipei City, while the DPP won in Kaohsiung City. In the January 2008 elections for the downsized 113-seat LY, the KMT won 81 seats and KMT allies won a further five seats, giving them a three-quarters majority over the DPP, which won just 27 seats. The DPP subsequently won several by-elections, and by April 2010 it had added six more seats, enough to prevent the ruling KMT from acting on its own to send proposed constitutional amendments to a referendum vote. As of June 2011, the KMT held 72 seats, the DPP 33 seats, the NSU 3 seats, and there were two independents.
In addition to the Kuomintang (KMT) (described above in 'History' and 'Political Conditions'), the other major political party is the DPP, whose membership is made up largely of native Taiwanese, and whose platform includes outspoken positions on some of the most sensitive issues in Taiwan politics. For example, the DPP maintains that Taiwan is an entity separate from mainland China, in contrast to the KMT position that Taiwan and the mainland, though currently divided, are both part of "one China." In sharp contrast to the tenets of both KMT and P.R.C. policy, a number of prominent DPP politicians openly advocate independence for Taiwan.
There are a number of small political parties, including the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU), the People First Party (PFP), and the New Party (NP). After the 2000 presidential election, former KMT President Lee Teng-hui broke with the KMT and in 2001 formed the pro-independence Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU), which allied itself with the DPP, an alliance that largely fell apart over time. The TSU failed to elect any members to the LY in January 2008. The People First Party (PFP) was formed in the wake of the March 2000 presidential election by disgruntled KMT members who supported the presidential bid of former KMT Taiwan Provincial Governor James Soong, who did not receive the KMT nomination. The PFP and KMT subsequently formed the "Pan-Blue" Alliance to oppose the DPP government. The PFP, however, gradually shrank and it largely merged with the KMT in the runup to the January 2008 LY elections, although one PFP candidate did win election to the LY under the name PFP. The New Party, which also split from the KMT, holds several seats on the Taipei City Council, but has no legislators at this point. In addition, there are more than 100 other registered small political parties, such as the Hakka Party, the Green Party, and the Constitution Party. None of these small parties received more than 1% or 2% of votes in the January 2008 LY election.
Taiwan and the Mainland
Over the past several years, Taiwan has relaxed restrictions on unofficial contacts with the P.R.C., and cross-Strait interaction has mushroomed. In January 2001, Taiwan formally allowed the "three mini-links" (direct trade, travel, and postal links) from Kinmen (Quemoy) and Matsu Islands to Fujian Province and permitted direct cross-Strait trade in February 2002. Cross-Strait trade has grown rapidly over the past 10 years. China is Taiwan's largest trading partner, and Taiwan is China's seventh-largest. Estimates of Taiwan investment on the mainland, both officially approved by Taiwan authorities and investment made by Taiwan firms through third parties, range from $150 billion to over $300 billion, making Taiwan and Hong Kong by some measures the two largest investors in the P.R.C. This trade generally runs in Taiwan's favor and continues to grow, providing another engine for the island's economy. On June 29, 2010, following 6 months of negotiations, Taiwan and the P.R.C. signed the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA), aimed at bringing about liberalization of cross-Strait trade in products and services, and eventually creating an essentially free-trade regime. ECFA came into force on September 12, and reduced tariff treatment for the bilateral trade of more than 500 products began on January 1, 2011. Ma administration officials see ECFA as a critical first step in avoiding Taiwan's regional economic marginalization and paving the way for expanded trade relations with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the United States, and other major trading partners.
In February 2003, Taiwan and the P.R.C. agreed to allow Taiwan carriers to fly non-stop (although routed via Hong Kong or Macau airspace) to bring Taiwan residents on the mainland home for the Lunar New Year holiday. The two sides agreed to conduct Lunar New Year charter flights again in 2005, with flights operated by both Taiwan and P.R.C. carriers flying over, but not having to land in, Hong Kong or Macau. Over time these flights were expanded to cover three other major holidays. In July 2008, Taiwan and P.R.C. carriers began operating cross-Strait charter flights every weekend. These flights are open to mainland tourists, as well as Taiwan and foreign travelers. Daily direct cross-Strait charter flight service began in December 2008, and the two sides have also begun cargo charter flights, direct shipping, direct postal service, and cooperation on food safety issues. To meet rapidly increasing air transport demand, both parties agreed to increase the number of passenger and cargo flights to 270 per week in 2009; carriers from each side operate 135 flights per week. Following an agreement in May 2010 to eventually increase cross-Strait flights to a total of 370 per week, both sides on June 14, 2010 added 14 flights between Shanghai and Taipei. As of November 1, 2010 298 weekly cross-Strait flights were in operation. More than 1.5 million P.R.C. tourists were expected to go to Taiwan in 2010. Many senior P.R.C. officials--including the culture minister, a vice minister of public security, the mayor of Shanghai, and numerous provincial governors and Communist Party leaders--have visited as part of an effort to improve mainland China's image among a generally wary Taiwan population.
The development of semiofficial cross-Strait relations has had ups and downs. In April 1993, the first round of high-level cross-Strait talks was held in Singapore between the heads of two private intermediary organizations--Taiwan's Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) and the P.R.C.'s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS). These talks primarily addressed technical issues relating to cross-Strait interactions. Beijing suspended lower-level talks from 1995-97 following President Lee's U.S. visit. SEF Chairman Koo Chen-fu visited the mainland in October 1998 for the second round of high-level talks. In 1999 Beijing once again suspended the cross-Strait dialogue, canceling plans for a visit by ARATS Chairman Wang Daohan to Taiwan, because of statements by President Lee that relations between the P.R.C. and Taiwan should be conducted as "state-to-state" or at least as "special state-to-state relations." Following his May 20, 2000 inauguration, President Chen called for resuming the cross-Strait dialogue without any preconditions, but the P.R.C. insisted President Chen first acknowledge what it claimed was the "1992 consensus" on one China reached by the two sides. The cross-Strait dialogue remained suspended for the following 8 years of President Chen's two-term administration. Nonetheless, economic and social ties continued to develop rapidly despite the "one China" obstacle and Taiwan's resentment over the P.R.C.'s March 2005 "Anti-Secession Law," and the two sides were able through intermediary organizations to reach agreements on holiday cross-Strait charter flights. The KMT began its own dialogue with Beijing in 2005.
President Ma has moved quickly to resume the SEF-ARATS dialogue, expand flights, and, in a major step to enhance cross-Strait relations, signed an Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) with Beijing. The United States has welcomed and encouraged the regular cross-Strait dialogue as a process which contributes to a reduction of tension and to an environment conducive to the eventual peaceful resolution of the outstanding differences between the two sides. The United States believes that differences between Taipei and Beijing should be resolved peacefully in a manner acceptable to people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait. Over the past 2 years, SEF and ARATS have held six rounds of talks and signed 15 agreements, including the ECFA. President Ma has stressed the importance of people-to-people contact, and in 2010 the Legislative Yuan revised the University Law, the Junior College Law, and the Cross-strait Relations Act that would allow P.R.C. college students to come to Taiwan for graduate and undergraduate degree studies.
Type: Multi-party democracy.
Constitution: December 25, 1946; last amended 2005.
Branches (Yuan): Executive, Legislative, Judicial, Control, Examination.
Major political parties: Kuomintang (KMT or Nationalist Party); Democratic Progressive Party (DPP); several small parties.
Suffrage: Universal over 20 years of age.
Central budget proposed (FY 2009): $56.8 billion.
Defense proposed (2009): 17.2% of entire budget.
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