When Taiwan’s new parliament was called into session this February, for the first time ever, a majority of lawmakers hailed from the longtime grassroots opposition, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). It signaled an exciting new chapter in the country’s history.

Political change in 2016 has been immense. The country elected its first female president, Tsai Ing-wen. Tsai, who leads the DPP, won the popular vote in a landslide and will be sworn in on May 20. The ruling Kuomintang (KMT), a party with an authoritarian past, was swept from both the presidency and the legislature.

Meanwhile, significant numbers of female legislators, as well those from new political parties and indigenous communities, have all joined the political scene. By one count, Taiwan has leaped into the top ten globally by percentage of female lawmakers.

Yet these changes are not only a triumph of politicians and political leaders — they represent victories for the broader Taiwanese public and for liberalism at large. As exciting as the election results are, there are even deeper reasons for optimism about Taiwan’s democracy. In a time of growing concern over global democratic recession (a decline in democracies worldwide during the past decade) — this island nation represents a hopeful beacon for “beleaguered liberals.”

As the elections come full circle with Tsai’s inauguration this Friday, we kick off a series looking back at some of the most exciting elements in the electoral process, highlighting how democracy continues to take root and grow in Taiwan.

Dispatch #1: Regular People in Taiwan Find Outlets to Participate in the Democratic Process With low barriers to entry and ample opportunities for participation, many ordinary citizens have their say during the carnival of elections.

Dispatch #2: People Cherish the Vote, Believing Democratic Politics Can Still Make a Difference. Rather than descending into apathy, Taiwanese seniors and youth are motivated to show up at the ballot box.

Dispatch #3: Regular Citizens Monitor Elections to Ensure the Integrity of the Vote. To secure a clean election, volunteers record ballots in parallel with the official vote count and then upload the findings to a public online database.

Dispatch #4: Digital Technologies are Utilized for the Common Good. Public-spirited initiatives make use of digital tools to increase citizen participation, transparency, and empowerment.

Dispatch #5. Taiwanese Launch New Political Movements to Join in a National Conversation. Instead of adopting existing vehicles for political expression, Taiwanese citizens dissatisfied with “politics as usual” are building their own movements.

Dispatch #6. Non-Political Social Movements to Make Sustainable Change. Civil society strategies and a spirit of activism advance social causes across Taiwan.



(Feature photo “Fisherman Island Lighthouse” by Wei-Te Wong from Wikicommons.)

Kevin Hsu

Kevin Fan Hsu is Lecturer in Urban Studies at Stanford University and co-founder of the Human Cities Initiative. He crafts open online courses and designs other educational experiences with a social mission at Skyship Design (www.skyshipdesign.net)