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Blessings in Disguise: How Authoritarian Legacies and the China Factor Have Strengthened Democracy in Taiwan

In: International Journal of Taiwan Studies
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  • 1 Social Science Research Scholar, Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, USA, kharis@stanford.edu
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Democracy in Taiwan today appears consolidated and of high quality. Much writing on Taiwan’s democratisation explains this outcome by pointing to aspects of its modernisation, but an underappreciated cause is its well-institutionalised party system, which in comparison to most other Third Wave democracies is a model of competitiveness, consistency, and stability. The sources of party system institutionalisation (psi) in Taiwan can be traced back to two factors: the legacies of the martial-law-era kmt regime, and the emergence of the China question as a fundamental, polarising divide in Taiwanese politics. High psi has ensured a credible alternative to incumbents in each election, enhanced the responsiveness of governments to citizen demands, and encouraged the greater provision of public goods and development of broad, programmatic policies rather than narrowly targeted, clientelist ones. Thus, Taiwan’s democracy is consolidated because of, rather than despite, the legacies of the pre-democratic era and the China factor.

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