On behalf of Taiwan in the Indo-Pacific Region and its National Security Task Force the Hoover Institution invites you to Narratives of Civic Duty and Taiwan’s Democratic Trajectory on Thursday, January 26, 2023 from 12:30 - 1:45 pm PT. To attend, register at the event page.
In her newly-published book Narratives of Civic Duty: How National Stories Shape Democracy in Asia, Aram Hur investigates the impulse behind a sense of civic duty in democracies. Why do some citizens feel a responsibility to vote, pay taxes, or take up arms for one's country? Civic duty is typically seen as the result of culture or character. Rather, Hur finds that it emerges from a force long seen as detrimental to democracy: strong national attachments. National stories—the folklore of the national people—embed relational legacies with the state that can harness, stunt, or even subvert the nation’s powerful pull toward civic duty. The talk focuses on the case of Taiwan and how its diverse national stories have shaped its democratic past and future.
Aram Hur is Assistant Professor of Political Science and Co-Director of the Institute for Korean Studies at the University of Missouri. Her research focuses on nationalism and democracy in East Asia, with special attention to issues of identity change, integration, and democratic support in the Korean peninsula and Taiwan. She is the 2021 Korea Society Sherman Emerging Scholar and a 2018-19 CSIS U.S.-Korea NextGen Scholar. She is the author of Narratives of Civic Duty: How National Stories Shape Democracy in Asia(Cornell University Press, 2022). She holds a PhD in Politics from Princeton University, MPP from the Harvard Kennedy School, and BA with honors from Stanford University.
In my latest piece for Taiwan Insight, I consider the lack of absentee or early voting options for people stuck in quarantine or who were COVID-positive during the 2022 Taiwan local elections.
I'm pretty critical of Taiwan's leadership here: they had more than two years to think about this problem, but they didn't learn from the rest of the world and were woefully underprepared to hold an election during a pandemic. 65k people were denied the right to vote as a result.
That is indefensible. It is long past time for Taiwan to introduce alternative ways to vote for citizens who can't physically access their polling stations. Korea and Japan share similar electoral administrative features, but they are way ahead of Taiwan now.
"With its colourful and fiercely contested campaigns, efficient electoral administration, and universal acceptance of the results, Taiwan’s recent local elections were, in most ways, a sign of a vibrant and healthy democracy. But one aspect failed to live up to basic democratic standards: thousands of people were denied the right to vote because they were trapped in mandatory COVID quarantine. After nearly three years of dealing with a global pandemic, Taiwan’s leaders should have been able to find some way to accommodate these citizens, as many other countries around the world have managed to do under much more difficult circumstances. Instead, they ignored the issue, and many Taiwanese were denied the right to vote. Taiwan’s democracy has received much recognition recently for its impressive vitality and resilience. But on voting rights, it is now a laggard. It can and must do better."
The rest of this piece appears at Taiwan Insight.
Taiwan's local elections are set for Saturday, November 26, with voting hours between 8am-4pm. The vote count will take place in full view of the public at the polling stations as soon as polls close and the last vote has been cast. This decentralized hand count means that the final results will be reported relatively fast (at least by American standards), by midnight local time, and most winners in the high-profile races will be known by 8pm.
As we wait for the results to roll in, I thought it would be useful to note some of the more distinctive features of Taiwan's system of election management. For readers interested in delving deeper into these issues, I have a working paper on elections in Taiwan that will come out next year in an edited book volume on electoral malpractice and manipulation in Asia. I also did a Twitter thread on the 2020 elections that may be of interest.
Five Unusual Features of Taiwan Elections
1. No absentee or early voting. Taiwan has never had either option. Instead, voters have to return to the place where their household is registered. Voter rolls are generated automatically from the country's household registration system 20 days before the election, and voters are assigned a precinct based on their official residence.
The downsides of this system are obvious: it places a disproportionate burden on people who live far from their official place of residence, including college students, active-duty military personnel, and overseas citizens. But there are advantages too: voter registration is automatic, ballot distribution and security is streamlined, and the count can take place at the polling place itself and be wrapped up quickly. (Compare with California, where we are still counting ballots for an election that happened on November 8.)
There are also historical reasons why mail-in and early voting options are viewed with skepticism by Taiwan's two major political parties. In the bad old days of martial law, ballot-stuffing was a serious problem in some races. Public vote counts, official campaign observers, and tight controls on blank ballots were developed to combat fraud, as this excellent book chapter by Su Yen-tu documents.
Unfortunately, with Taiwan still dealing with COVID quarantine restrictions, it appears that about 65,000 eligible voters will be trapped in quarantine and unable to vote. Don't blame the Central Election Commission for this: they're just following the election law, which has no provisions for alternative ways to cast a vote. Instead, blame the CECC, which has kept in place a five-day mandatory quarantine for people testing positive, and the legislature, which would need to amend the election law to allow for either early or absentee voting.
I hope the controversy here starts a more serious discussion about how to add alternative voting methods without undermining the many strengths of Taiwan's electoral process. My own view is that the current system could be adapted to allow early voting much more easily than absentee or mail. For one, early voting wouldn't necessarily require ballot transfers between different precincts, and votes could be kept on-site and counted at the same time as same-day votes. The prospect of absentee voting in Taiwan makes me very nervous: it's much more susceptible to vote-buying, and it also has the potential to completely undermine trust in election outcomes. Imagine, for instance, if a couple hundred thousand ballots cast in mainland China arrived by mail after the election, and swung several critical races toward China-friendly candidates. It would be impossible to persuade most people that those votes were cast freely, without coercion by the CCP...
2. Restrictions on campaign activities. The Civil Servants Elections and Recall Law includes a lot of restrictions on how and where candidates can campaign, what they can pass out, and even when they can officially campaign (only during the 15 days before the election for mayors and county executives, and only five for lower offices!). But in practice, the CEC is only in a position to enforce a few of these, since Taiwan's quite liberal freedom of speech and assembly protections supersede many of these restrictions.
Among the rules that the CEC still strictly enforces are limits on the value of campaign materials passed out to voters (NT$30 per item per person), the time of day campaigns can take place, (7am-10pm), and a blanket ban on campaign activities during Election Day itself, beginning at midnight. Voters cannot wear any kind of clothing with campaign insignias on it to vote, either -- including masks -- and no campaign posters or paraphernalia can be posted within 30 meters of a polling station. Voters cannot use phones or cameras to video during the voting process, either.
The ban on election-day campaigning has been extended to cyberspace as well, and the CEC takes it very seriously. In 2012, for instance, the Ma Ying-jeou Facebook page posted a simple reminder to supporters on Election Day reminding them to turn out to vote for Ma, and the CEC interpreted this as a violation of the campaign prohibition and fined the Ma campaign NT$500,000.
The election law also imposes a polling blackout during the 10 days before the election. You may have noticed all the polls on the TVBS polling site are currently down to comply with this restriction -- they'll be back up as soon as the election results are known.
Finally, if these limits seem intrusive to you, it's worth noting that Taiwan's election restrictions are in practice quite liberal when compared to South Korea, Japan, Singapore, or Malaysia, as this article by Jong-sung You details. Taiwan is a positive outlier in the region on this dimension.
3. Campaign deposits and campaign subsidies. All candidates for elected office have to pay a deposit in order to qualify for the ballot. The CEC has the discretion to set the amount, which varies by prominence of office. For 2022, the deposit requirements for candidates were:
Candidates receive a refund of this deposit only if they obtain more than 1/10 of the winner's vote share, which a lot of minor candidates do not. One of the more curious features of Taiwan elections is just how many fringe or vanity candidates are willing to spend the considerable sums necessary to qualify for the ballot with little hope of actually getting their deposits back.
Taiwan also has public subsidies for both political parties and individual candidates. Political parties get a payout every year in proportion to the share of the party vote they got in the last legislative election. Individual candidates in the local elections receive a subsidy after the election of NT$30 per vote received, but only if they obtain at least 1/3 of the winner's vote share.
These rules appear to me to strike a reasonable balance between allowing access to the ballot for serious candidates, while still discouraging completely frivolous ones. They also include several provisions that increase the value of belonging to a political party, and that tend to privilege the larger, longer-established parties over smaller ones and independent candidates -- all good things for democracy in my view.
4. What if a candidate dies? Article 30 of the Civil Servants Elections and Recall Act specifies that if a candidate dies after the registration deadline, but before Election Day, the election should be stopped and every step in the process redone with a new slate of candidates: announcement of a new Election Day, registration, drawing of ballot numbers, printing of ballots, and so forth. This actually happened in Chiayi City this election cycle: an independent candidate for mayor, Huang Shao-tsung (黃紹聰), was found dead at home, apparently of a heart attack, on November 2.
The CEC has some discretion to decide how to redo the election process, and in the Chiayi City case they decided to postpone Election Day for the mayor's race to December 18. All the rest of the elections in Chiayi City, for councilors and ward chiefs, will still be held on November 26. I'm not sure how common this solution to the death of a candidate is around the world, but it's unheard-of in the US.
5. Poll workers can be nominated by the candidates themselves. A majority of poll workers, including the head manager and supervisor, are required to be civil servants -- many of them schoolteachers. In fact, according to the Elections and Recall Law Article 59, civil servants are required to serve as poll workers if nominated. In addition, political parties and all candidates themselves can nominate some poll workers in each precinct; workers are drawn by lot when the number of nominees exceeds the required number.
This poll worker provision was introduced in the 1960s to act as a check on the ballot stuffing and fraud that frequently occurred then, and it offered candidates a way to monitor each ballot box and increase trust in the vote count. It's generally worked quite well ever since. By far the biggest threat to electoral integrity in Taiwan since the 1980s has been vote-buying, rather than fraud at the ballot box.
Programming note: I had to bow out of this event at the last minute because of a positive COVID test; a hearty thanks to my colleague Glenn Tiffert for stepping in on very short notice.
On behalf of the Project on Taiwan in the Indo-Pacific Region, and its National Security Task Force, the Hoover Institution invites you to How the Ukraine Crisis Shapes Taiwan’s Public Opinion -- and Beyond on Tuesday, October 18, 2022 from 4:00 - 5:00 PST.
Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine and Ukraine’s response has changed the calculation of war strategies and US involvement worldwide. On the other side of the world, a potential 2027 China invasion of Taiwan looms over the stability of East Asia, and public opinion in democratic Taiwan plays a crucial role in its own choice of security strategies. How does the Ukraine crisis influence or shape the Taiwanese people’s preference for security and foreign policies? How might the US response and presence in Europe and East Asia play a role in Taiwan? In this talk, Dr. Austin Horng-En Wang traces and analyzes public opinion in Taiwan before and after the start of the Ukraine crisis and explains how the changes across subgroups are likely to impact the upcoming elections in Taiwan and the future of the US-Taiwan relationship.
Featuring Austin Horng-En Wang, Assistant Professor University of Nevada, Las Vegas, followed by a conversation with Kharis Templeman Research Fellow Hoover Institution.
Dr. Austin Horng-En Wang is an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. His research focuses on political psychology, public opinion, and the politics of East Asia. His research articles can be found in the Journal of Peace Research, Social Media + Society, Asian Survey, and Political Research Quarterly, among others. He is the recipient of The Wilson Center 2021 China Fellowship, Chiang Ching-Kuo Foundation 2020 Scholarship, and Global Taiwan Institute 2019 Scholarship.
This coming week is the 4th World Congress of Taiwan Studies at the University of Washington, Seattle campus. WCTS is the seminal gathering of academics and practitioners working in the Taiwan studies field. The first meeting was in 2012 in Taipei at Academia Sinica, the second in 2015 in London, and the third also at Academia Sinica in 2018. This meeting has been delayed a year because of the COVID pandemic -- well worth the wait, however, because we actually get to do this in person. For many of us this will be the first time seeing each other in almost three years.
How Democratic Is Taiwan? Evaluating 20 Years of Political Change
On Monday, June 27 I'm going to be presenting a new paper at the WCTS that attempts to evaluate the quality of democracy in Taiwan. The initial inspiration for this research was a talk that Larry Diamond gave in 2001, which provides a very useful snapshot of Taiwan's democratic strengths and weaknesses. Diamond highlighted five problem areas:
Here's the ranking and score for four prominent democracy indices used to rank overall quality of liberal democracy:
V-Dem is noticeably more negative than the other three on Taiwan (and much more positive on South Korea, for reasons that aren't clear to me.) So keep that in mind as we look at some of the V-Dem indicators below -- if there's systematic bias in the V-Dem estimates, they're probably too low rather than too high.
Political Corruption and Black Gold Politics
Here's the Varieties of Democracy indicator for vote-buying, 1969-2021, which shows some real improvement after 2015.
And here's V-Dem's political corruption score over the same time period. Almost imperceptible changes up to 2014, followed by real declines in corruption.
Rule of Law
Here's V-Dem's Rule of Law index, 1980-2021. Roughly similar pattern, with some improvement starting 2015, although V-Dem is pretty positive on the rule of law even in 2001...
Finally, here's V-Dem's political polarization measure. The trend here is counter-intuitive -- it shows the Chen Shui-bian era as not particularly polarized, and significantly less than the previous Lee Teng-hui era, followed by a further decline in polarization until 2013, then significant increases since then.
This looks weird to me -- I've long thought the CSB era was the peak for polarization, and that it has declined since then -- but that's what the data show.
I've put two other countries on here for reference -- compared to South Korea and the United States, Taiwan doesn't look especially polarized at any point in the last 20 years. So despite the increases on this indicator in recent years, political polarization doesn't look like the fundamental threat to democracy that Diamond worried it might be back in 2001.
What's It All Mean?
The paper has a lot more, but summarizing:
Finally, this paper was inspired partly by accusations coming from some quarters in Taiwan that it is now an "illiberal democracy" or "electoral autocracy" under President Tsai Ing-wen and the ruling DPP. I wrote a blog post last December rebutting some of these accusations; this paper builds on the data and arguments there. The conclusion is the same: you really have to stretch to argue that Taiwan is in democratic decline. Most of the data point in the other direction: Taiwan's democratic system has addressed many of its most serious weaknesses since 2001, and even since 2015.
Russia’s military buildup around Ukraine has triggered the most serious crisis in relations between Russia and the West since the end of the Cold War. Over 100,000 Russian troops are deployed near the border with Ukraine, poised to launch a major military assault at a moment’s notice. While these developments appear only to affect European security, American commentators have been quick todraw parallels to Taiwan.
The similarities seem obvious. Like Ukraine, Taiwan faces an existential threat from one of Eurasia’s great autocratic powers, and it is also a Western-oriented democracy that the United States has an interest in keeping free from coercion. Both Ukraine and Taiwan are being framedas critical test cases of America’s willingness to uphold global norms against the use of military force to seize territory. Some observers have even gone so far as to argue that their fates will be linked: a failure to respond to military action against Ukraine would weaken American credibility and invite an attack on Taiwan by the People’s Republic of China.
Put simply, this is lazy analysis. In the current geopolitical moment, the differences between Ukraine and Taiwan are far more important than their similarities — and linking together the security threats that the two countries face can make both situations worse. The United States should not continue to divert limited resources away from the Indo-Pacific, where the military balance is shifting in China’s favor over the next decade, to a region that is both less crucial to American interests and where the balance of power is more advantageous to Washington. U.S. prioritization, not reputation, is what really matters for Taiwan’s security.
The rest of this commentary appears at War on the Rocks.
The Hoover Project on Taiwan in the Indo-Pacific Region will host a virtual event tomorrow (register at the link), Tuesday, December 8 at 4pm, the Dynamics of Democracy in Taiwan: The Ma Ying-jeou Era.This event will cover some of the findings from a recent new book that I have co-edited with Yun-han Chu and Larry Diamond. We're fortunate to have three of the contributors to the book able to join us for the discussion. They are:
Szu-yin Ho, Professor of Strategic and International Affairs at Tamkang University, Danshui, Taiwan, and the former deputy secretary-general of the National Security Council during the Ma Ying-jeou presidency. He'll be speaking about the legacies of President Ma's cross-Strait policies.
Austin Horng-en Wang, Assistant Professor of Political Science at UNLV. He'll provide some remarks about the emergence of Tsai Ing-wen as the unquestioned leader of the DPP during the Ma era.
Shih-hao Huang, Post-Doctoral Fellow in political science at National Chengchi University, Taipei, Taiwan. He'll present data that show the challenges the Ma administration had getting priority legislation approved by the Taiwan's Legislative Yuan, despite enjoying a large KMT majority there for both his terms. He will also compare legislative success rates under Ma to the Tsai Ing-wen era, and reflect a bit on what the differences can tell us about executive-legislative relations in Taiwan.
For more on the book, and a link to the first chapter, see this previous blog post.
This will be the last event of the calendar year for PTIP. Keep an eye out for announcements about our 2021 activities, coming soon.
Finally, on a personal note, this event is my first as the Program Manger of the Hoover Project on Taiwan in the Indo-Pacific. After being out of that role for over a year, as of November 1 I've stepped back in to take over the day-to-day management of the current incarnation of the Taiwan program at its new home at the Hoover Institution. Many thanks to Glenn Tiffert for his great stewardship of PTIP over the past year while juggling many other responsibilities--including, not coincidentally, the China Global Sharp Power project.
The American Political Science Association (APSA) annual conference was supposed to be in held in San Francisco this year, until COVID-19 hit. So, like everything else, it's moved online. That's probably just as well, because over the last month the Bay Area has turned into a post-apocalyptic hellscape of raging fires, record heat, and choking smoke. We've even broken some of the all-time temperature records that were set the last time APSA was in San Francisco, in 2017. Yay. At this rate it might be wise to put San Francisco (or anywhere in California, really) on the same repeat-offender list as New Orleans and never hold APSA here again. (Seattle has never looked better.)
Anyway. It turns out we'll still have a strong lineup of Taiwan-related programming in the virtual conference. The Conference Group on Taiwan Studies (CGOTS) is sponsoring seven panels on Taiwan politics, spread out over four days (Thursday-Sunday, September 10-13, 2020). Details are at the CGOTS website, and reposted below. Note that you have to be registered for the conference to join the virtual sessions, but that they're otherwise open to all participants. If you'd like to see the latest Taiwan politics research, come check us out online.
Panel 1: Politics of Immigration and Progressive Issues in Taiwan
Thu, Sep.10, 8:00 to 9:30am (MDT) [7:00-8:30am (PDT); 9:00-10:30am (CDT); 10:00-11:30am (EDT)]
Thu, Sep.10, 10:00-11:30pm (Taipei, GMT+8)
Chair: Shelley Rigger, Davidson College
Discussants: Wei-Ting Yen, Franklin and Marshall College
Panel 2: New Perspectives on the Elections and Voting: The Case of Taiwan
Thu, Sep.10, 10:00 to 11:30am (MDT) [9:00-10:30am (PDT); 11:00am-12:30pm (CDT); 12:00-1:30pm (EDT)]
Fri, Sep.11, 12:00-1:30am (Taipei, GMT+8)
Chair: Christopher Achen, Princeton University
Discussants: Lu-Chung Dennis Weng, Sam Houston State University
Panel 3: Emerging Issues and Puzzles in Taiwanese Politics
Fri, Sep.11, 8:00 to 9:30am (MDT) [7:00-8:30am (PDT); 9:00-10:30am (CDT); 10:00-11:30am (EDT)]
Fri, Sep.11, 10:00-11:30pm (Taipei, GMT+8)
Chair: Pei-te Lien, University of California, Santa Barbara
Discussants: Ching-Hsing Wang, National Cheng Kung University
Panel 4: Public Policy and Legislative Studies in Taiwan
Fri, Sep.11, 10:00 to 11:30am (MDT) [9:00-10:30am (PDT); 11:00am-12:30pm (CDT); 12:00-1:30pm (EDT)]
Sat, Sep.12, 12:00-1:30am (Taipei, GMT+8)
Chair: Karl Ho, University of Texas, Dallas
Discussants: Fang-Yu Chen, Michigan State University; Nick Lin, Academia Sinica
Panel 5: Polarization and National Identity: The 2020 General Elections in Taiwan
Sat, Sep.12, 8:00 to 9:30am (MDT) [7:00-8:30am (PDT); 9:00-10:30am (CDT); 10:00-11:30am (EDT)]
Sat, Sep.12, 10:00-11:30pm (Taipei, GMT+8)
Chair: Yao-Yuan Yeh, University of St. Thomas
Discussants: Austin Horng-En Wang, University of Nevada, Las Vegas; Kharis Templeman, Stanford University
Panel 6: Social Media and its Political Impact in the Contemporary Taiwan
Sat, Sep.12, 10:00 to 11:30am (MDT) [9:00-10:30am (PDT); 11:00am-12:30pm (CDT); 12:00-1:30pm (EDT)]
Sun, Sep.13, 12:00-1:30am (Taipei, GMT+8)
Chair: Chung-li Wu, Academia Sinica
Discussants: Yi-Chun Chien, National Chengchi University
Conference Group on Taiwan Studies Business Meeting
Sat, September 12, 7 to 8pm (MDT) [6-7pm (PDT); 8am-9pm (CDT); 9-10pm (EDT)]
Sun, September 13, 9-10am (Taipei, GMT+8)
Please contact Yao-Yuan Yeh at email@example.com if you would like to acquire the meeting link.
Panel 7: Changes and Trends in Cross-Strait Relations between Taiwan and China
Sun, Sep. 13, 8:00 to 9:30am (MDT) [7:00-8:30am (PDT); 9:00-10:30am (CDT); 10:00-11:30am (EDT)]
Sun, Sep.13, 10:00-11:30pm (Taipei, GMT+8)
Chair: Hans Stockton, University of St. Thomas
Discussants: Jason Kuo, National Taiwan University; Charles Chong-Han Wu, National Chengchi University
It's alive! This book volume on Taiwan politics during the Ma Ying-jeou years (2008-2016), which I've edited with Chu Yun-han and Larry Diamond, just arrived in the mail from Lynne Rienner Publishers this weekend.
This is our attempt at a deep dive into various aspects of Ma-era politics, including party politics and elections, political institutions and governance challenges, trends in public opinion and democratic values, civil society and social movements, and cross-Strait and US-Taiwan-PRC relations. This look at the Ma years parallels somewhat our earlier book on the Chen Shui-bian era.
We were fortunate to be able to assemble a great group of contributors for this book--about half based in Taiwan and half abroad--who offer a variety of perspectives on the politics of the Ma years. The scholarship here draws on years of conferences, papers, and conversations that started even before President Ma left office, including with some of the key participants in and outside of the Ma administration. (Chapter 15, for instance, is by Szu-yin Ho, who served for two years as deputy Secretary-General of Ma's National Security Council.) This sort of cross-national collaboration is less common than it should be (in part because it's logistically hard to pull off!), but I am convinced the final product is much stronger for it.
Among the many great contributions here, let me especially highlight three that provide original, provocative answers to important questions about the Ma era:
For more thoughts on those issues and a broader overview of the book, check out the introductory chapter, which is available ungated from the publisher's website.
Table of Contents:
I have a piece out in the latest issue of the Journal of Democracy on Chinese efforts to influence Taiwan politics, and why they failed in the January 2020 elections. After the DPP lost badly in the 2018 local elections, there was a lot of speculation (see, e.g. here, here, here, here, and here) that Beijing would be emboldened by these results and expand its efforts to sway the 2020 campaign and turn President Tsai Ing-wen and the DPP out of office, or failing that, would find ways to delegitimize the results and destabilize Taiwan's democracy. In the end, that didn't happen: Tsai recovered from a politically shaky first term to win an even larger share of the vote than in 2016, the DPP held onto its legislative majority, and Tsai's main opponent, Han Kuo-yu of the KMT, openly conceded defeat on election night.
In the article, I lay out several reasons why these fears did not come to pass in 2020, and why Taiwan's democracy has repeatedly proven resilient to PRC pressure campaigns.
The full article is available via Project Muse, and access is free through August 15, 2020.
I am a political scientist with research interests in democratization, elections and election management, parties and party system development, one-party dominance, and the links between domestic politics and external security issues. My regional expertise is in East Asia, with special focus on Taiwan.