Democracy | Taiwan

In Taiwan’s two-party system

The Kuomintang and the Democratic Progressive Party are the only two political parties in Taiwan. What do they stand for? Two delegates give us the low-down on their political hopes, dreams and aspirations

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Left: Lin Chia-Hsing, right: Wu Pei-Yi

Lin Chia-Hsing, Kuomintang (KMT)

It was by chance that I became interested in a political career. I studied political science and history at Chengchi University in Taipei and witnessed corruption in a student union. No one wanted to address the problem, so I joined the student association and was later elected chairman. After I resigned at some point, I was asked by representatives of the KMT Youth League if I wanted to join.

At that time I was not a big fan of the KMT. I thought the party members were all old and corrupt. But the people who approached me wanted to bring other young people together to change the KMT from within. That's why I joined. We are different from the rest of the party, for example, because we were the first members of the organisation to speak out in favour of same-sex marriage.

For me, the KMT stands for securing the status quo in Taiwan and regional stability. Unlike before, most party members no longer focus only on our ties with Mainland China, but some of us, including myself, still hold on to the idea that we could one day be reunited with the Chinese people should China eventually be open, transparent and democratic.

If you observe Taiwan's politics, generation is a much more important reference point than particular identities. My generation, for example, is the so-called sunflower generation and generally tends to side with the Democratic Progressive Party (DFP). Many people my age have a more anti-China attitude.

The younger generations, however, have a more positive view of China, partly because they consume a lot of Chinese entertainment via TikTok and YouTube videos. My parents' generation, the over-fifties, are also considered more China-friendly because they are mainly focused on the well-being of the Taiwanese economy. They want good trade relations with China without military conflicts. So Taiwan is like a sandwich with different political layers.

But I am confident that we can convince the younger generations of our party. It is not for nothing that we won the local elections in 2022. If it is up to me, then the KMT must above all deal with coming to terms with the past. However, we also think that the current DFP government is doing a very poor job in this field. It is using the KMT's past as a political pretext to attack the party.

For example, the DFP has set up three different government organisations that are only focusing on how to seize KMT property and our archives. This is not justice, this is legalised robbery. Who gives them the power to say who was guilty and who was not under Chiang Kai-Shek's rule?

It would certainly be possible to include people from different political backgrounds - and not just KMT members. Recently, for example, it came out that one of the DFP MPs had secretly worked for the KMT government in his school days. We are willing to discuss the historical truth, but not if it is only being used as a tool to discredit us as a party.

I think the biggest challenge for Taiwan is the increasing geopolitical tensions between the US and China. Our second biggest problem is the low birth rate. Nowhere else in the world, in fact, are fewer children born than in Taiwan. Our economy is therefore short of labour and the DFP government has not yet found a good way to solve the problem.

There are many reasons for the low birth rate. For example, sending children to school is becoming prohibitively expensive, and young people can hardly afford to buy houses because prices have soared. Even I can't afford that with my above-average salary. Our parents' generation could easily raise a child. Now we can only afford a cat or a dog.

Wu Pei-Yi, Democratic Progressive Party (DFP)

My parents are both primary school teachers, and I am the first person in my family to pursue a political career. When I decided to pursue politics, Taiwan was going through a special time. In 2014, the protests of the Sunflower Movement began. It was triggered by an agreement between Taipei and Beijing that was supposed to further deepen Taiwanese-Chinese ties.

However, many young people were against it because they feared that the agreement would undermine Taiwan's national security. I joined the Sunflower Movement at that time for this reason as well. Because I grew up in Taiwan during the democratisation process, I know how difficult it was for us to become a democratic society; and also how fragile democracy is, especially in the face of the Chinese threat.

For me, the DFP is the party that protects our basic democratic values and our democratic way of life. But that does not mean that we should only focus on the relationship with China. As politicians, we need to look at all aspects of life for our constituents, including education, culture and the arts. I myself was elected to the Taipei City Council for the first time in 2018. I was the youngest member ever.

Now I want to involve more young people in politics, because if the young generation is strong, Taiwan can also be strong. Nevertheless, it is of course very challenging to work in politics as a young person. If you want to win an election, you have to get involved locally. For the people here, personal dialogue is important. That's why you have to show up in temples, communities, schools and parks.

Also, there are still a lot of older people who don't trust us younger people - and I think there are still prejudices deep in people's minds about women in particular. Even though we have a female president today, the abilities of female politicians are sometimes still doubted. But you have to remember that Taiwan is still a very young democracy and the first presidential elections were less than thirty years ago.

Having only two major parties sometimes makes it more difficult to have a functioning discourse. Last year, for example, there was a referendum here to lower the voting age from twenty to 18. Unfortunately, this proposal was not accepted because the KMT used the referendum to create sentiment against us. This also happens in many other policy areas where the two parties are bitterly opposed.

For example, we as the DFP are strongly committed to a political and legal review of the time under the former dictator and KMT leader Chiang Kai-Shek. This is because many people in this country still refer to him as a national hero and honour him with statues. In my opinion, the monuments are not the only remnants of our country's authoritarian past that need addressing. Many supporters of the KMT see it differently.

As told to Lena Fiedler
Translated by Jess Smee