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Government & Politics 
in Taiwan

The Republic of China was founded by Dr. Sun Yat-sen in 1912 and is a sovereign state, which is described in the Constitution as "a democratic republic of the people, by the people, and for the people."

The Constitution

The ROC Constitution is based on Dr. Sun Yat-sen's Three Principles of the People: Nationalism, Democracy, and People's Livelihood.  The Principle of Nationalism includes not only equal treatment and sovereign international status for the country, but also equality amongst all ethnic groups within the nation.  The Principle of Democracy assures every individual the right to political and civil liberties.  The Principle of People's Livelihood states that the powers granted to the government must ultimately serve the welfare of the people by building a strong and prosperous economy and a fair and just society.

The ROC Constitution delineates the rights, duties, and freedoms of the people; the overall direction for political, economic, and social policies; and the organization and structure of the government.  Modeled after US constitutional concepts, it guarantees various rights such as equality, work, livelihood and property, as well as the political powers of election, recall, initiative and referendum.  In return, the people are obligated to pay taxes and perform military service as prescribed by law.  Receiving an education is considered to be both a right and a duty of the people.

The ROC Constitution specifically guarantees the freedoms of speech, residence, travel, assembly, confidential communication, religion and association.  Other rights and freedoms, even if not specified in the Constitution, are still protected, so long as they do not violate social order or public interest.  All actions taken by the state against a citizen - such as arrest, trial and punishment - must be conducted strictly according to legal procedures.  If the government violates a person's human rights while processing a case, the victim is entitled to compensation by the state.

Governmental Structure

There are three distinct levels of government in the ROC.  The central level consists of the presidency, the five Yuan (Executive, Legislative, Judicial, Examination, and Control), and that National Assembly.  The provincial/special municipality level consists of the Taiwan and Fuchien provincial governments and the governments and councils of the two special municipalities of Taipei and Kaohsiung.

The local level consists of five provincial municipalities and 16 county governments, along with the governments of their subordinate cities.  The constitutional amendment of July 23, 1997, downsized the provincial government, placing the Taiwan and Fuchien administrations under the central government with councils nominated by the premier and appointed by the president.

Central Government

The structure of the ROC government has a horizontal system of checks and balances in which the five highest branches of the central government administer the country.  These five branches are the Executive Yuan, Legislative Yuan, Judicial Yuan, Examination Yuan, and Control Yuan.

The president of the Republic of China is the highest representative of the nation.  In the past, the National Assembly elected the president; however, since March 1996, the people of Taiwan have directly elected both the president and vice president.  President Chen Chui-bian and Vice President Lu Hsiu-lien are the current heads of state for the Republic of China.

The president of the Republic of China can hold his office for a maximum of two consecutive four-year terms.  As the head of state, the president represents the country in all foreign relations and state function; furthermore, all acts of state are conducted in his name.  The president's duties include commanding the land, sea, and air forces; promulgating laws and decrees; declaring martial law, subject to confirmation by the Legislative Yuan; concluding treaties; declaring wawr and making peace; convening the National Assembly; granting amnesty and commutations ; appointing and removing civil officials and military officers; and conferring honors and decorations.  All powers exercised by the president much be carried out in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution and other relevant laws.

Following six constitutional amendments made between April 1991 and 2000, the National Assembly is now a non-standing body whose functions have mostly been transferred to the Legislative Yuan.  In accordance with the laws passed by the Legislative Yuan, the 300 delegates of the National Assembly are now selected by political parties on the basis of proportional representation.  The few powers retained by the body include voting on constitutional amendments, presidential impeachment or alteration of the national boundaries, as proposed by the Legislative Yuan.  It's former powers, such as hearing a report on the state of nation by the president each year and approving the president's nominations for grand justices and heads of the Examination and Control Yuan, have all been transferred to the Legislative Yuan.

The ROC Cabinet is headed by the premier and consists of various ministers and commission chairmen under the Executive Yuan.  Subordinate organizations under the Executive Yuan include the Executive Yuan Council; the eight ministries (interior, foreign affairs, national defense, finance, education, justice, economic affairs, and transportation and communications; the Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs Commission, Overseas Chinese Affairs Commission, Directorate General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics, and the Government Information Office; and other subordinate organizations, such as departments, commissions, councils, administrations, and ad hoc committees.

The Legislative Yuan is the highest legislative body of the state, consisting of popularly elected representatives who serve for three years and are eligible for reelection.  The 255 members of the Fifth Legislative Yuan were elected in December 2001.  The powers of the Legislative Yuan, which are only exercised on behalf of the people, include confirming emergency orders made by the ROC president; hearing reports on administration, revisions of government policy, and a report on the state of nation by the president each year; examining budgetary bills and audit report; practicing the right of consent over the appointment of the presidents of the Control, Examination, and Judicial Yuans; proposing amendments to the ROC Constitution; settling disputes concerning self-governance; initiating impeachment proceedings against the ROC president and vice president; and overseeing the operation of the Executive Yuan.

The Judicial Yuan is the highest judicial body of the state, with the Council of Grand Justices as its main body.  The Seventh Council of Grand Justices consists of 15 grand justices, including the president and vice president of the Judicial Yuan.  The grand justices are appointed by the ROC president and confirmed by the Legislative Yuan.  Subordinate units of the Judicial Yuan include the Supreme Court, high courts, district courts, the Supreme Administrative Court, the High Administrative Court, and the Commission on the Disciplinary Sanctions of Public Functionaries.  In addition to exercising administrative supervision of Taiwan's court system, the Judicial Yuan also enforces judicial independence from the other branches of government in accordance with the Constitution.

The Examination Yuan is responsible for the examination, employment, and management of all civil service personnel in the Republic of China.  It consists of a president and 19 members, all of who are appointed to six-year terms by the ROC president and confirmed by the Legislative Yuan.  In addition to overseeing exams, the Examination Yuan manages qualification screening ,security of tenure, pecuniary aid in case of death, retirement of civil servants;  and all legal matter relating to the employment, discharge, performance evaluation, scale of salaries, promotion, transfer, commendation, and award of civil servants.  The examination system used in Taiwan applies to all appointed and elected civil servants, as well as to specialized professional and technicians hired by the government both locally and from abroad.

The Control Yuan is responsible for correcting government officials at all levels and monitoring the government through the powers of impeachment, censure, and audit.  The Control Yuan's 24 members, including its president and vice president, are appointed to six-year terms by the ROC president and confirmed by the Legislative Yuan.  The are not allowed to hold any other public office, engage in other professions, or have any political party affiliation.  The Control Yuan exercises its power of audit through its Ministry of Audit, which is responsible for auditing all government expenditures at the central, provincial, municipality, county and city levels.

Provincial and Special Municipality Governments

A provincial government is the highest local administrative organization prescribed by the ROC Constitution, though at the present time, Taiwan is the only complete province under the ROC's effective control.  In accordance with Article 9 of the Additional Articles of the ROC Constitution, the Taiwan Provincial Assembly was abolished on December 20, 1998.  The Taiwan Provincial Government now consists of an eight-member council - including a governor who is nominated by the premier and appointed by the ROC president - that is responsible for the various provincial administrative function.  With the abolishment of the Taiwan Provincial Assembly, many former position within the provincial government were eliminated or gradually merged with other levels of government.  The Fuchien Provincial Government is responsible for administering Kinmen and Lienchiang Counties.

Taiwan's special municipalities are considered equivalent in status to a province, and thus receive partial funding from the central government.  Special municipalities have popularly elected mayors and city councils.  Taiwan currently has two special municipalities: Taipei City and Kaohsiung City.

County and Provincial Municipality Governments

Provincial municipalities are under direct provincial jurisdiction, whereas county municipalities are under direct county jurisdiction.  There are five provincial municipalities, namely Keelung, Hsinchu, Taichung, Chiayi, and Tainan, and 32 county municipalities in Taiwan.

Every city and county in Taiwan has its own respective city/county government and city/county council.  Mayors head city governments, while magistrates manage county governments.  All councilors, mayors, and magistrates are elected to office by popular vote.

Government Reform

The ROC has placed government reform at the top of its administrative agenda, with the air of establishing a highly efficient, responsible, and adaptable entity that is capable of coping with different changes.  Government reform is a comprehensive plan engineered as the basis for enhancing national competitiveness, which is a prerequisite for advancing national development.  The goal is to transform the entire government into a streamlined, flexible, innovative, and resilient organization that function like a well-managed private company.  To achieve the end, government agencies are being streamlined to roughly two-thirds their present size, the functions and organization of the central government are being customized to adapt to current needs, a more flexible hierarchy and personnel structure is being planned and promoted for bureaucratic organizations, and the budgetary system is being modified.

Democratic Electoral System

Taiwan has been rapidly implementing democracy since the mid-1980s.  Various political parties compete in regular elections, and more posts are now filled by popular election than ever before.

Electoral Systems

Three separate electoral systems are employed in Taiwan.

The first system is used for election of the president, mayors and magistrates.  Each voter casts only one vote, and the candidate receiving the greatest number of votes is elected.

The second system is used in election for the Legislative Yuan, as well as county, city, and township councils.  Each voter still casts only one vote, although there may be two or more seats available for each constituency, which are filled by top-scoring candidates.

A third system, called proportional representation, has been used since 1991 for election to fill a limited number of seats reserved for the national constituency and for overseas Chinese communities in the Legislative Yuan.  Before an election, each party submits two lists of candidates, one for the national constituency and the other for representatives of overseas Chinese.  After voters have cast their ballots, votes gained by candidates of each party are tallied and seats distributed proportionally among the parties receiving at least 5 percent of the total valid votes nationwide.  At present, 22 percent of the seats in the Legislative Yuan are filled by proportional representation.

The National Assembly has amended the ROC Constitution six times over the last few years, making a number of changes to Taiwan's electoral politics:

  • The terms of office for the ROC president and members of the National Assembly have been reduced from six years to four (the term for the Legislative Yuan has remained the same as three years).
  • The president and the vice president are now elected directly by all eligible voters in the free territory of the ROC, rather than indirectly by the National Assembly as in the past.  Furthermore, to be elected, a presidential candidate needs only a plurality of the vote, rather than a majority.
  • Members of the Control Yuan are now nominated and appointed by the president of the ROC, with the consent of the Legislative Yuan.
  • Provincial government has been streamlined.  Formerly elected, the Taiwan Provincial Assembly has been replaced by a nine-member consultative council appointed by the president.
  • In April 2000, the National Assembly amended the Constitution to drastically reduce its own powers and functions.  The National Assembly now only convenes when proposals of presidential impeachment, constitutional amendment, and national boundary changes are initiated by the Legislative Yuan, which now has most of the functions formerly held by the National Assembly.

Central Election Commission

Founded in 1980, the Central Election Commission (CEC) under the Executive Yuan is responsible for hold and supervising national and local elections, screening the qualifications of candidates, recalling elected officials, and drafting laws concerning elections.  The CEC has a chairman, and between 11 and 19 commissioners who, after being nominated by the premier and approved by the president, serve for three-year terms.  To ensure the impartiality of the CEC, the Public Officials Election and Recall Law forbids any single political party from holding more than two-fifths of the commission seats.

Political Parties

As of September 2003, a total of 102 political parties had registered with the Ministry of the Interior, though most have only insignificant influence in the political system.  The five most prominent parties are the Democratic Progressive Party, Kuomintang (also known as the Nationalist Party), New Party, People First Party, and Taiwan Solidarity Union.

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)
Formed on September 28, 1986, the Democratic Progressive Party now has around 420,000 members.  The DPP's annual National Congress elects 30 members to its Central Executive Committee, who in turn elect a Central Standing Committee of ten members.  The DPP party chairman nominates a secretary-general, one or two deputy secretaries-general, a number of departmental directors (for organizations development, culture and information, international affairs, social development, women's development, youth development, Chinese affairs, and a survey center), two directors-general, and an executive director, all of whom must be approved by the Central Standing Committee.

At an extraordinary session of its National Congress held April 20, 2002, the DPP authorized the president of the ROC to serve as chairman whenever the DPP is in power.  When it is not, the chairman will be directly elected by all party members.  In addition, the April 20 congress created positions for up to three vice chairmen.

What most distinguishes the DPP from the KMT, People First Party, and New Party is its inclination towards Taiwan independence, that is, the permanent political separation of Taiwan from China.  In recent elections, however, the mainstream DPP leadership has moderated the party's independence rhetoric in an attempt to broaden voter support.  At the Eighth National Congress in 1999 prior to the 2000 presidential election, for instance, the DPP resolved that:

  • Taiwan is a soverign state, whose official name is the Republic of China.
  • Any change of Taiwan's status quo should first require a referendum.
  • Taiwan is not part of the People's Republic if China, and the so-called "one country, two systems" or "one-China" declaration unilaterally declared by the PRC falls short of the interests of the people of Taiwan.
  • Taiwan and China should seen to establish lasting peace by building a communication mechanism based on mutual understanding and a consensus through dialogue across the Taiwan Strait.

The unprecedented victory of the DPP candidate Chen Shui-bian at the 2000 presidential election ended five decades of KMT domination of Taiwan's politics.

Kuomintang (KMT)
The Kuomintang, which celebrated its centennial on November 24, 1994, is the largest party in the ROC with approximately 1.05 million members.

The KMT's National Congress is its highest authority, having the power to amend the party charter, determine the party platform and other important resolutions, and elect the party chairman and 210 Central Committee members.  The National Congress also approves the vice chairmen and members of the Central Advisory Council, all of whom are nominated by the party chairman.  The Central Standing Committee, which represents the Central Committee when it is not in session, is the most influential KMT organization.

Routine party affairs are managed by the secretary-general and two to three deputy secretaries-general.  The main party organizations under the secretary-general include the Policy Committee, National Research Institute, Culture and Communications Affairs Committee, and Organization and Development Committee.

In March 2001, the KMT held its first direct election for party chairman, giving acting chairman Lien Chan the full title.  The 16th National Congress was convened in September 2003, at which, a new 210-member Central Committee was elected, and which, in turn, elected the 31 members of the Central Standing Committee.

New Party (NP)
In August 1993, shortly before the KMT's 14th National Congress, a group of KMT members including one former and six incumbent lawmakers resigned from the KMT to establish the New Party, which aimed to attract voters dissatisfied with the performance of the KMT but opposed the DPP's pro-independence platform.  The New Party now has approximately 1,400 members.

The New Party differs from the KMT and the DPP in organizational structure and stresses leadership by those holding public office.  The NP is led by its National Council.

In the 2001 election for Legislative Yuan members, county magistrates, and city mayors, the NP fared poorly, making the future of the party look doubtful.

People First Party (PFP)
On March 31, 2000, the People First Party was established by James Soong, a former KMT governor of Taiwan Province, who, running as an independent, had lost narrowly in the presidential election.  He was joined by a number of KMT legislators who had supported him during the presidential election, and was elected as the party's first chairman.  The PFP opened its membership to citizens of 16 years of age, two years younger than the minimum age required by other parties.

The party's highest policy-making body is its National Council, which consists of current or former office-holders in the executive or legislative branches of the government, current or former party officials, and representatives from different sectors of society.  The council elects a Central Executive Committee consisting of 21 members and seven alternate members, each of whom serves for a two-year term.  Every two years, all party members directly elect the party chairman.  The PFP now has around 120,000 members.

Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU)
The Taiwan Solidarity Union is a new addition to Taiwan's political scene, having registered with the Ministry of the Interior on July 31, 2001.  With the endorsement of former president Lee Teng-hui, it attracts supporters from the KMT, DPP, and other political groupings.  Its aim is to "stabilize the political situation, promote the economy, consolidate democracy, and strengthen Taiwan."

The Part Contress is the highest authority of the TSU.  The party chairman, who is elected directly by party members for a two-year term, appoints the 21 members and three alternate members of a Central Executive Committee every two years.  The TSU now has around 3,000 members.


The ROC has held elections since the early 1950s.  Even during the period of the Emergency Decree (sometimes referred to as "martial law"), elections for county magistrates, city majors, provincial assembly delegates, and county and city council members were held regularly.  Today, representatives and leaders at all levels of government are elected by popular vote.  The minimum voting age is 20, and voter registration is automatic.  The government notifies voters of an impending election and distributes a bulletin or gazette that identifies and describes all candidates an their platforms.

2002 Elections for County and City Councilors and Township Magistrates

On January 26, 2002, elections were held for a total of 897 council seats and 319 executive offices, including county and provincial municipality councils, rural and urban township magistrates, and county municipality mayors.

In the election for county and city councilors, the KMT captured 382 of the 897 seats, the DPP 147 seats, the PFP 49 seats, the NO 3 seats and the TSU seven seats with the remaining 309 seats going to independent candidates.  In the elections for rural and urban township magistrates, and county municipality mayors, the KMT won 195 of the 319 seats, the DPP 28 seats, and the PFP four seats, with independents wining the remaining 92 seats.

These election results showed that the KMT still retained a high level of support at the local level.

2002 Elections for Taipei and Kaohsiung Mayors and City Council Members

On December 7, 2002, Taiwan held elections for Taipei and Kaohsiung mayors, and the two big cities' council members.  In the mayoral election in Taipei, KMT's incumbent Ma Ying-jeou, retained his post with 873,102 votes (64,1 percent), defeating DPP candidate Lee Ying-yuan, who collected 488,811 votes (35.9 percent).  Voter turnout was 70.61 percent.

In Kaohsiung, the DPP's incumbend Mayor Frank Hsieh was also reelected with 386,384 votes (50 percent), while the KMT's Huang Jun-ying garnered 361,546 votes (46.8 percent).  Among the three other  candidates for Kaohsiung mayor, Chang Po-ya received 13,479 ballots; Shih Ming-teh, 8,750 ballots; and Huang Tian-sheng, 1,998 ballots.  Voter turnout was 71,38 percent.

As for the elections for the 52 seat Taipei City Council, the KMT retained its position as the largest party with 20 seats (38.5 percent), followed by the DPP with 17 seats (32.7 percent), the PFP with eight seats (15.4 percent), the NP with five seats (9.6 percent), and two seats for independents.  The TSU failed to win a single seat in Taipei.

In the elections for the 44-seat Kaohsiung City Council, the DPP replaced the KMT as the largest party by taking 14 seats (31.8 percent), followed by the KMT with 12 seats (27.3 percent), the PFP with seven seats (15.9 percent), the TSU with two seats (4.6 percent), and nine seats for independents.  The NP failed to win any seats in Kaohsiung.

Updated 2006
Information provided by the Information Division, Taipei Economic and Cultural Office

Some of the biggest changes in Taiwan's government can be found in the articles of 1994.  The change was the election of a president by popular vote for a term of four years, and for citizens 20 and older, voting is universal.  Before this change, the president was elected to a six-year term by the National Assembly.  1996 was the year a president was elected by popular vote.

As the president is the head of state and serves as the commander in chief of the Republic of China. He also represents Taiwan at state functions as well as in foreign relations.  He and his vice president can be impeached by the National Assembly.  The National Assembly's scope includes constitutional amendments as well as declaring changes to China's borders.

The government of Taiwan includes five branches of government in addition to the president and National Assembly.  The first, the Executive Yuan (branch), is the highest administrative branch and is in charge of implementing and making government policy.  It's members are appointed by the president.

The Legisative Yuan has 153 members who are elected to their three-year terms.  Legislative power is exercised on behalf of the people and audits Executive Yuan reports and the Legislative Yuan also checks the budget.

Powers of consent, impeachment, censure and audit are implemented by the Control Yuan.  The 29 members of this branch also uncovers corrupt officials and removes them, from all levels of government.  With the National Assembly's consent, the president appoints the members of the Control Yuan.

Any civil servant, including elected and appointed officials, are examined, employed and managed by the Examination Yuan.  This Yuan's 21 members are appointed by the president under consent by the National Assembly and serve six-year terms.

The final Yuan is responsible for the administrative, civil and criminal court cases, as well as those regarding the discipline of public officials.  In charge of Taiwan's court system, the Judicial Yuan has a president, vice-president and a Council of Grand Justices (which has 15 members).  The Judicial Yuan is over the Supreme Court and all "lesser" courts below the Supreme Court.

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