Taiwan’s democractic system that is seen today cannot be achieved without two opposing forces. Democractic Progress Party (DPP) stands as the primary opposition to the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). However, the formation of the DPP was not easy because Taiwan was under martial law and forming political parties was considered treason. DPP entered the presidential office in 2000 but with a minority in the legislative yuan. It wasn’t until 2016 that they were able to hold both the executive and the legislative branch.
DPP is most well-known for its Taiwan national identity as a policy. For many this means Taiwan independence, but it varies on multiple degrees, from hardliners demanding Taiwan be declared an independent country to moderates seeking for status quo. Their economic policy has typically been centered around protecting local businesses and workers, but has started to look towards international trade, but being very cautious when dealing with China.
Whenever DPP holds the presidency, China has always stopped all communications with Taiwan.
While the Chinese Nationalist Party was the only party in Taiwan, people outside of the party could also run for office. However, without a political party, there is a lack of cooperation to be had. It wasn’t until November 1977 for local elections, everyone outside of KMT stood together as “TangWai” or “outside of the party”. Standing as one, they were able to start to campaign for each other and assist each other even without a formal party formed.
This was the start of the TangWai coalition that would eventually lead to the formation of the Democratic Progressive Party.
In December 1979, as the TangWai party was holding a march to commemorate the International Human Rights Day, they were met with riot police. As tensions rose and finally broke, the now called Formosa Incident unfolded. Over 150 people were indicted for illegal public assembly. This massive arrest was an attempt by the government to shutdown and discourage any intentions of TangWai movement. To the contrary, the protest, along with the murder of family members of a prominent TangWai figure, sparked both the passion for more candidates to run, and also fueled the people’s choice to vote them into office.
With this surge of TangWai representative in the government, more actions were taken to try to form a formal party.
Under the threat of treason, founding members of the future DPP met in private homes to discuss the party platforms and by-laws. In 1986, at the Grand Hotel, DPP was formally announced to be founded. Many members understood that it may be their last day of freedom, and awaited their arrest. Surprisingly, then-president Chiang Ching-Kuo said to hold off on their arrest, but also proclaimed that this party was not recognized. For a year, the media would refer to DPP as the “Democratic X Party”, “X Progressive Party” or kept their original name of TangWai. This may have been due to the Chiang’s failing health, family dispute within the Chiang family and faction splits within the KMT party.
Continued Fight for Democracy
Even though the party was founded, there were still many policies that DPP were trying to achieve and through the years were able to achieve them one by one. These included pressuring then-president Chiang Ching-Kuo to end the martial law (1987), echoing the protest to allow for direct presidential vote (1990), and removing of Article 100 of the Criminal Law ending the blacklist and allowing exiled Taiwanese to return home (1992).
Update of Party Constitution
Like any party formed with a common enemy, after the success, there is a split of ideology. One of the biggest topics was the relationship between Taiwan and the Republic of China (ROC).
After many discussions, it was decided that Taiwan is already an independent country whose name is Republic of China. It bears no connection with the Republic of China from China and is name only. It is no longer seeking the formation of the Republic of Taiwan.
Rise and Fall from Power
15 years since its founding, in 2000, DPP was voted into presidential office with Chen Shui-Bien as president. However, after 8 years, the two-term president was indicted and eventually arrested for corruption. This also had the people of Taiwan lose faith in DPP leading to a devastating loss at the 2008 elections in both presidential office and legislative seats. It wasn’t until 2016, with Tsai Ing-Wen as leader of the DPP that they were able to take back the presidential office, and, for the first time, a majority in the legislative yuan.
The Taiwan national identity is the core of the DPP party platform, but this has a different meaning to different people as well as different actions. One example of stark difference is with the two DPP presidents. President Chen Shui-Bien has been very vocal about his want for Taiwan independence, going as far as to petition the United Nations to be entered under the name of Taiwan (as opposed to Republic of China). President Tsai Ing-Wen, on the other hand, has maintained her stance on the status quo. While she still stands up against China’s hostility, she does not call out directly for independence. This, however, did anger many older generation DPP supporters.
Since DPP was founded on the idea of Taiwan being a separate entity from China, the Chinese government has always harbored animosity towards DPP. Whenever DPP takes the presidential office, China would cut off communications with Taiwan and accuse DPP of provoking the status quo.
While in the past DPP has been more about protecting local farmers and laborers, in recent years, it has shifted to international economic relations as well, but has put its focus more on Southeast Asia rather than China.