The author of Party Politics in Taiwan is Dafydd Fell, a Taiwan Studies Research Fellow at the Centre for Financial and Management Studies and Visiting Lecturer in the Department of Politics and International Studies at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies. ). Fell is one of a small cadre of political scientists whose work focuses on Taiwan’s domestic politics. He has actively promoted Taiwan studies in Europe, helping to found the European Association of Taiwan Studies as well as an MA program in Taiwan Studies at SOAS, which he coordinates.
The most intriguing aspect of Fell’s book on Taiwan’s party politics is the empirical data collected to support the thesis, it is different than other studies who just collect survey data which only shows populist trends. On the other hand, empirical data avoid populist culture and focuses mainly on data collected through historical texts and other scientific means which is of more substance and more useful when studying elite politics. But Fell’s approach is targeted at the connection between elite politics and the populist current. Fell through his book tries to answer certain questions as to explain how do parties adapt and evolve in Taiwan. Do they follow a convergent pattern of competition common in many western democracies, in which though the ideological distance is limited, parties still offer distinct policy platforms consistently? Has competition been divergent resulting in highly polarised parties, with all its dangers for political stability? Has Taiwan followed a common model of many new democracies of either a hegemonic one-party dominant system or a completely unconsolidated system of weak catchall parties and personality orientated issueless campaigns?
Dafydd Fell introduces us to his preliminary arguments and then later divides these into eight formal chapters with the 8th being the conclusion to all his arguments and findings. In chapters one to six Dafydd Fell has given a structured background and an overview of the ROC’s political party system and then in detail laid out the important issues which helped define the nature of political system and the actions taken up by major political entities and actors to control the island’s various political and governmental organs. The issue of Taiwan has always raised eyebrows in the international society, not more than the United States even when it was anauthoritarian state due to the circumstances of the world structure and the subsequent power struggle in the cold war. So when Taiwan eventually democratized it even more complexed the issue of its identity, as an independent state because it was now a democracy and needed to protected by the US due to its moral obligation towards democratic states, and as a part of the mainland due to its history. The democratization process was an important case study for scholars being the fact that Taiwan was the only Chinese Democracy as mentioned by Fell. He says that many new democracies to make the transition into liberal democracies as political parties are used as “vehicles for ambitious politicians to gain office” as was illustrated in the fluidity of party break-ups and mergers in Japan and South Korea in 1991.
Fell shows that Taiwan quickly institutionalized a type of partisan competition familiar in “mature” democracies quite early in its democratic transition. He also adds that the political parties are unique and well-differentiated in their ideologies to give the general public more options and different views to vote on. Though he later states that the closeness of policy realities between the major parties could make the political structure more candidate focused in the future. Fell also argues that political parties in Taiwan have evolved through a balanced mixture of inner part politics, electoral competition, public opinion, and party ideology. To say it concisely, the evolution is the result of the balanced interactions between ideologically oriented and election oriented factions. Fell in his book emphasizes three issues that made up the foundation for competition in Taiwan’s political space. These are social welfare, political corruption, and national identity. Then he takes into account the election results coupled with his own to analysis to present a case study of three major parties The Kuomintang, Democratic Progressive Party, and New Party. The three mentioned parties each held their ideological positions onthe three issues mentioned and were correctly identified and voted for by the voters based on their identities. The two major parties evolved their positions over a period of time namely the DPP and the KMT which led to their gradual convergence on the issues whereas the NP did not adjust its positions over time based on the election which means that it did not let election oriented faction to interact with ideological faction and was thus marginalized as it did not attract support from the voters, thus proving Fell’s argument.
Even though Fell argues that political parties are converging on issues, he clearly mentions differentiation between parties which could be sensed among the general public. He argues that “even though parties have become institutionalized into a state of moderate democratization i.e less distinguishable but still not depolarized enough to become indistinguishable catch-all parties.
To support his argument of parties being institutionalized into moderate democratization Fell mentions the issue of social welfare. In social welfare Fell deals with mostly healthcare and pension benefits, DPP raised the issue of social welfare and KMT almost immediately converged on the idea and as Fell mentions “KMT owns (issue of) national health insurance and the DPP owns (issue of) pensions. Corruption as an issue was raised by the DPP, KMT does not hold a different view of this issue but the DPP still succeeded because of the different image the KMT has in the view of the general mass with respect to corruption and corrupt practices. The third issue of national identity is not really an issue but a broad concept which gives way to party image and how it deals with political issues such as cross-strait relations. Quite clearly every single party has differentiated opinions on resolving the cross-strait dispute including but not limited to independence, unification, status quo or other solution but this only gives a different image towards a political issue and is more based on ideological faction rather than election oriented faction. Also, Fell has only emphasized only upon issues and has not really taken into account reputation, candidate qualifications and political mobilizations which also play a major role.
Fell’s Party Politics in Taiwan clearly shows, distinction, evolution, and awareness which is most important for a new, young and thriving democracy but the speed with which the parties are converging is a topic on which fell did not touch upon. The excess rate at which the political parties are all coming close has burdened the society with the presence of electoral college in all forms of organized sector and therefore suffers from an over-indulgent all-encompassing electoral mobilization.