- Taiwan's big strides toward democracy don't count out backsliding.
- Data show that many Taiwanese are dissatisfied with their political system, which could mean waning support for democracy in principle.
- Could Taiwan’s democracy could be challenged from the outside? Keep an eye on China.
This paper was prepared for Taiwan’s Future in the Asian Century: Toward a Strong, Prosperous and Enduring Democracy Conference, American Enterprise Institute, Washington, DC, November 10, 2011.
Taiwan’s democratic transition began with baby-step reforms in the late 1970s, accelerated through the 1980s, and reached its apex with the first direct presidential election in 1996. In the sixteen years since that watershed event, Taiwan’s democracy has moved toward consolidation, but the pace of its forward progress has slowed. Although Taiwan shows no sign of returning to the authoritarianism of its past, institutionalizing the gains achieved during the transition has not always been easy. And if backsliding is unlikely, it is not inconceivable that Taiwan might be dragged into a new form of nondemocratic politics imposed by Beijing. Taiwan and its friends must continue to defend its political system energetically lest Taiwan lose its ability to resist the pressures that threaten its democracy.
Shelley Rigger (email@example.com) is the Brown Professor and chair of the political science at Davidson College and the author of Why Taiwan Matters: Small Island, Global Powerhouse (Rowman and Littlefield, 2011).