Organizer, Professor and Taiwan Journal of Democracy Editor Tun-jen Cheng, William & Mary, Virginia, USA

Manager, Dr Allen Peng, TFD and TJD

The consensual scholarship on Taiwan’s party system has presented a highly institutionalized two-party system with low electoral volatility and for any third party, with a dismal survival rate. However, for this past decade, electoral swings have been on the rise, and the number of party identifiers for the incumbent party, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has not been growing, while that for the Kuomintang (KMT) shockingly shrinking since 2015. Third parties, small as they are, have become a significant and constant presence both at the ballot box and in the legislative corridor. The revamped electoral system (both in terms of seat allocation formula and public campaign financing) has contributed to the ‘dilution” of the well-established two party system in Taiwan, as it affords new small parties with a living space to surface, survive and even prosper. Created in 1919 on the mainland and migrated to Taiwan in 1949, the KMT continuously in power shortly after its formation till the year 2000 and even regaining power for two full terms afterward, is currently at historical cross-roads. Party reforms and adaptation will determine whether the KMT is able to return to power in the future.

The KMT is not the only non-western, century-old political party that is still on the political stage. We can find at least three other parties in the same genre, one in Latin America, the Middle East and Africa, respectively, namely, Mexico’s PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional, established in 1929 by the revolutionaries), Turkey’s RPP (Republican People’s Party or CHP, Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi, founded by the Kemalists in 1919), and South Africa’s ANC (African National Congress, formed in 1912, but banned in 1960 for three decades). These four parties each began as a political movement assuming a historic task of nation-building, have had political longevity, but are all facing the daunting tasks of self-renovating, updating their social bases, and re-envisioning their missions, on top of their strenuous endeavors to hold onto or coming back to power.

This panel aims to examine reform efforts of the four parties in historical and comparative perspectives. There are case-specific features in their political parameters, most notably illiberal democracy in Turkey, intractable property rights and economic development issues in South Africa, left-leaning populism in Mexico in uneasy coexistence with right-wing populism north of its border, and the intractable cross-Strait relations for Taiwan. But all four century-old parties have to wrestle with a quintessentially ‘Darwinian’ challenge: adapt and rejuvenate, or decay and become extinct. Putting the four cases together allows us to learn about the varieties of strategies and predicaments, and the range of choices and consequences.

Ketty W.Chen, “Reforming the Nationalist Party in Taiwan: Necessity for Survival?” (Vice President and Dr Ketty Chen of TFD)

The Kuomintang (KMT) has managed dominate Taiwan politically since its migration to Taiwan in 1949. The KMT’s power was first secured by the authoritarian regime it established since 1949. During the White Terror Era, the KMT utilized methods of fear to kept the local populations in check. After lifting of Martial Law in 1987, the KMT found itself having to compete with the opposition, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), for political positions. The electoral playing field leaned dramatically for the KMT. With its incorporation of the local population and adopting social policies that catered to the needs of the citizens, the KMT managed to garner administrative power until 2000. The KMT came back to power in 2008, after former President Ma Ying-Jeou won against DPP presidential candidate, Frank Hsieh. The end of President Ma’s presidency was plagued with social movements, including the Sunflower Movement, where half a million citizens took to the streets to protest a Service Trade Agreement with the People’s Republic of China. Since then, the support for the KMT shrunk tremendously, especially in the youth segment of Taiwanese society. In 2016, the candidate for the DPP, Tsai Ing-wen, captured presidency, and her political party also, for the first time, gained majority in the Legislative Yuan. Four years later, Tsai was reelected by a landslide and the highest political votes since Taiwan’s democratic history. The DPP also continued to obtain the majority in the legislature. The KMT, even though it recaptured several seats in the local election in 2018, has been failing in almost all aspects in the political field. The party continues to lose support from the general public, specifically from the younger population in Taiwan. Secondly, the party is experiencing generational divide, as well as coming up with a sound cross-strait policy that is acceptable to the population, as China ramped up its influence operation and military intimidation to Taiwan. The purpose of this paper is to discuss the KMT’s struggle to reinvigorate itself, and how it could adapt to the increasingly fast changing regional and cross-strait relationship, so the party is able to return to power in the future.

Burak Cop, “Modernizing the CHP” (independent scholar, Istanbul)

The Republican People’s Party (CHP), the oldest political party of Turkey, will celebrate its 100th anniversary on September 9th, 2023. From a short-term perspective, the CHP can be seen as the product of the national liberation struggle pursued against the Allied and Greek occupation forces between 1919 and 1922. However, its historical roots stretch back to the early modernization efforts in Ottoman Empire at the turn of 18th century. After governing Turkey 27 years uninterruptedly, 15 years of which being under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the leader of the national liberation movement and founder of both the new Turkish republic and the party, the CHP handed over power to the Democratic Party peacefully in 1950 as a result of the first free and fair multi-party general election of the republican era.

The CHP did not have the possibility to govern Turkey alone since then (except for the 1 month-long minority government without vote of confidence in 1977) but proved to be an agile and persistent political actor which played an important role in Turkish politics during most of the time following the 1950 critical juncture. There were a number of general and local elections in which the CHP, the Social Democratic Populist Party which stood in the absence of CHP, and the Democratic Left Party which eclipsed the CHP by electorally replacing it, came first. Several coalition governments were also formed with the participation of the three parties being mentioned either as senior or junior partners. On the other hand, it is also an undeniable fact that Turkey has generally been governed by right-wing parties since 1950. In addition, three military coups materialised, the first one (1960) favouring the CHP but the last two (1971 and 1980) promoting right-wing policies in contrast.

In the formation years of the republic and the party itself, the CHP stood as a solidarist party, sometimes ideologically ambiguous, seeking to stand above all social classes and even ideologies. The CHP’s main role was then modernizing the society and polity, along with leading the nation-building process. It was the 1960s that the ideology began to play an important role in Turkish politics and the CHP started to position itself on the centre-left of the political spectrum from the mid-60s. CHP underwent significant transformations, revised its policy objectives, and had either broadening or shrinking electoral bases throughout its history. Such changes bolstered CHP’s power in many instances but brought about divisions and declines as well. The CHP proved to be a lasting, flexible, and efficient party anyway, and emerges as an alternative to the authoritarian Erdoğan regime, this time by gathering a number of pro-democracy right-wing parties under its leadership. Hence the CHP has achieved the possibility to determine who the next president of Turkey will be in its 100th anniversary.

Nicola de Jager, The African National Congress’ shackling of democratic South Africa (Department of Political Science, Stellenbosch University, South Africa)

The South African Native National Congress (SANNC), established in 1912 following the 1910 Union of South Africa, was comprised of the African middle class – professionals, property-owners and the educated kholwa, fruit of the missionary schools. This educated elite met to organise against racial discrimination and to advocate for equal treatment before the law. They were constitutionalists and active members of society – establishing schools, newspapers and civil society organisations in service of their communities. At the time the Cape Province had a qualified non-racial franchise, which would be whittled away under the Union until 1948 when White-supremacy became radically legislated. This radicalisation of South African politics was met with radicalisation within the now African National Congress (ANC). As the proxy-Cold War played out on the African continent, the Soviet Union found a willing convert to its socialist imperialism in the ANC, while the ANC found in the Soviet Union a needed ally – finances and military support, which, of course, came with the ideological transfer. The effective conveyance of communist ideas and values has meant that even post-1994 the now governing ANC persists with partisan governance, the deployment of loyalists, and a national project of centralised control over the state, society, and economy. In a democratic dispensation the ANC has found its partisan governance at odds with the impartiality principles of the 1996 Constitution, and its centralised control, justified using promises of transformation, stifling the potential of a burgeoning economy. The values of partisanship, party loyalty and centralisation of power, have served the ruling party and its connections well, giving it almost unlimited access to state resources. But it has undermined the democratic project and kept the citizens of South Africa from their primary stated need – work, which comes with a growing private sector, free from stifling political control. This has not gone unnoticed by an electorate increasingly reluctant to support them at the voting station. If the ANC seeks a viable future for itself and for South Africa beyond the 2024 elections, it would do well to look back at the founding values of its early days.

Joyce Langston, “Keeping the PRI Politically Resilient in Mexico” (Collegio de Mexico, Colmex, Mexico City, Mexico)

Mexico’s PRI remained in power for 70 years and faced enormous challenges of economic and social development, as well as political mobilization. However, the PRI-regime was authoritarian and while its national leadership did allow other parties to exist, they were perpetually shut out of office, as the regime controlled and rigged the electoral system. However, the combination of a developing middle class and a severe economic crisis in the 1980s led to more serious electoral challenges in the late 1980s and into the 1990s. With a stronger opposition, the authoritarian PRI regime leaders were forced to reform the electoral laws to make votes count. With these reforms, the PRI lost the nation’s presidency in 2000 and multi-party democracy was established. However, the PRI did not disappear after 2000; it maintained the largest share of both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate and a majority of the nation’s 32 governorships. Thanks to its large presence in the legislatures – both national and state – the party was able to continue to influence policy outcomes and deny the ruling PAN administrations (2000-2006 and 2006-2012) major legislative victories. The ability of PRI candidates to continue to win state governorships was especially important because state governments controlled large quantities of resources and were not well audited in their spending. Thus, the party depended on both its large legislative delegations and its sub-national executives to keep the party competitive. Finally, in 2012, the PRI returned to the presidency; this, however, turned into a disaster for the PRI as the president and his circle of collaborators (including many governors) were soon embroiled in scandals of massive corruption, much of which was eventually brought to light because of the nation’s social organizations and lively press outlets. The inability of the PRI’s leadership to control its collaborators’ corrupt practices or produce positive economic and social outcomes reduced the party’s electoral outcome to an abysmal third place in the 2018 elections. Today, the party has or will soon lose almost every single governorship it held in 2018; its legislative delegation has shrunk, and it is now seen as both corrupt and incompetent. Faced with the popular president from the new Left MORENA party, the PRI has not been able to reform itself since 2018 and many doubt it will survive the next 10 years as a major electoral organization.