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Surviving the Rough-and-Tumble of Presidential Politics in an Emerging Democracy: The 1990 Elections in the Republic of China on Taiwan*

  • Ts'ai Ling and Ramon H. Myers
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From 1949 until 1986 the Kuomintang (KMT) ruled Taiwan and adjoining island territories (Republic of China or ROC on Taiwan) without organized political opposition. This party was led by two powerful leaders, a father and son: Chiang Kai-shek served as party chairman and the government's president until March 1978, and then Chiang Ching-kuo held both positions until his death in January 1988.

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1. We use the term “political crisis” to describe the following new political conditions: a split in the leadership of the Kuomintang party; unconventional behaviour or violence by certain members of the National Assembly; and large-scale political demonstrations involving nearly all political parties and tens of thousands of students.

2. We are indebted to Thomas A. Metzger for suggestions regarding these three problems.

3. For a classic statement of this position, see Solomon, Richard H., Mao's Revolution and the Chinese Political Culture (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971), ch. 1.

4. For studies on Chinese political factions and how they try to achieve consensus, see Jacobs, J. Bruce, Local Politics in a Rural Chinese Cultural Setting: A Field Study of Mazu Township, Taiwan (Canberra: Contemporary China Centre, Research School of Pacific Studies, Australian National University, 1980); Nathan, Andrew J., Peking Politics, 1918–1923: Factionalism and the Failure of Constitutionalism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976), ch. 2.

5. This paragraph owes much to Tien, Hurig-mao, The Great Transition: Political and Social Change in the Republic of China (Stanford: Hoover Institution Press, 1989), p. 113.

6. “Guoda bace huiyi zong'e qiwusan ren jueding guobanshu wei 377 piao” (“At the Eighth Congress of the National Assembly, out of a total of 753 members, more than one-half or 377 votes, are required to elect a president and vice-president”), Lien-ho-pao, 18 02 1990, p. 1.

7. These elections are described in Ling, Ts'ai and Myers, Ramon H., “Winds of democracy: the 1989 Taiwan elections,” Asian Survey, Vol. 30, No. 4 (04 1990), pp. 401415.

8. For such an example see Yin-t'ing, Lin, “Neidou zhong di yimei huoqi: Li Huan” (“A live chip in the inner struggle for power: Li Huan”), Yuan-chien (Global Views Monthly), No. 44 (15 01 1990), pp. 2628.

9. Hsing-ch'ing, Wang, “Li Teng-hui timing Li Yuan-ts'u, Kuomintang neidou yi dengchang” (“Lee Teng-hui nominates Li Yüan-ts'u, and the power struggle within the KMT begins”), Hsin-hsin-wen (The Journalist), 12/18 02 1990, p. 11.

10. “Chiang Wei-kuo dafanan fouren naixiong shuoguo Chiang-jia buzai xuan zongtong” (“Chiang Wei-kuo reinterprets the historical records and denies that his brother ever said no member of the Chiang family will ever seek the presidency or vicepresidency again”), Tzu-li tsao-pao, 15 02 1990, p. 1. See also “Gehai fangpao Chiang Wei-kuo zouxing guoda hailang” (“His detonating of firecrackers overseas has stirred up huge waves in the National Assembly”), Tzu-li tsao-pao, 15 02 1990, p. 1.

11. For example, the Lien-ho-pao ran an article on 11 February entitled “Fuzongtong shi shei? Zhongshan lou eryu yuetan ‘bu zhidao’” (“Who will be the vice-president? At Chung-shan Conference Hall the whispers and conversations add up to ‘we do not know’”), Lien-ho-pao, 11 02 1990, p. 3.

12. “Qili? Toupiao? Timing'an biaojue fangshi jianren jianzhi” (“To stand up or vote by ballot? The method to nominate is seen in different ways”) Lien-ho-pao, 12 02 1990, p. 3.

13. Ibid.

14. Ibid.

15. “Shan chu piaoxuan, jinzi caijue yingfa zhengyi” (“By eliminating election by secret ballot, they made the decision themselves, thus triggering a great debate”), Lien-ho-pao, 12 02 1990, p. 3. Among the, key leaders who voted for secret balloting were Hao Pu-ts'un, Li Huan, Lin Yang-kang and Sun Yun-hsüan. Among those who favoured the stand-up method were Sung Ch'u-yü, Kao Yü-jen, Ch'iu Ch'uang-huan and Wu Po-hsiung.

16. “Fan Li renshi Jiang tui Lin Yang-kang-Chiang Wei-kuo tadang” (“Those who oppose the two Lis will promote the Lin Yang-kang-Chiang Wei-kuo nomination”), Tzu-li tsao-pao, 12 02 1990, p. 1.

17. “Teng Chieh tuiyong Lin-Chiang quanli fadong lianshu” (“Teng Chieh goes all out to obtain signatures to promote the nomination of Lin and Chiang”), Tzu-li wan-pao, 11 02 1990, p. 1.

18. Ibid.

19. “Chang Yü-sheng: Kuomintang yao kaifang buke zuo huitoulu” (“Chang Yü-sheng declares the KMT must open up and reform, not retrogress”), Lien-ho-pao, 13 02 1990, p. 2.

20. “Li Sheng-feng pingji Li Teng-hui: buminzhu” (“Li Sheng-feng attacks Lee Tenghui as undemocratic”), Lien-ho wan-pao, 1 03 1990, p. 1.

21. Ibid.

22. “Chao Shao-k'ang fangpao, yaoqiu Li Teng-hui yongren youfang fangdaxiongjin” (“Chao Shao-k'ang sets off some firecrackers by requesting that Li Teng-hui use people of talent who are broadminded and have vision”), Tzu-li tsao-pao, 1 03 1990, p. 2.

23. “Lin Yang-kang jueding jiang houxuan zongtong” (“Lin Yang-kang decides to run for president”), Tzu-li tsao-pao, 3 03 1990, p. 1.

24. “Quan da jiaoti, yanzhong chongtu, guoda kailuoxi biandiaoliao” (“Using their feet and kicking, a serious altercation erupts, changing the sound of the opening ceremony of the National Assembly”), Tzu-li tsao-pao, 20 02 1990, p. 1. Our narrative is based on this account and others published in Lien-ho-pao and Chung-kuo shih-pao on 20 02.

25. Ibid.; see also “Zongtong wuyan, Minjindang xianfan qizuo jiuxi” (“At the presidential luncheon, DPP members overturned seven banquet tables”), Lien-ho-pao, 20 02 1990, p. 1; “Zongtong zhicu boli pinglanglang; zongtong wuyan jiucai hualala” (“When the president spoke, glass splintered everywhere; during the president's luncheon, dishes flew everywhere”), Lien-ho-pao, 20 02 1990, p. 3.

26. Ibid., Lien-ho-pao, 20 02 1990, p. 3. For a timetable of the morning's events see “Guoda chongtu hunluan, di yici huiyi naodao zui gaodian” (“The National Assembly produces great conflicts, but the first meeting was most disorderly”), Lien-ho wan-pao, 19 02 1990, p. 3.

27. Ibid; “Li Zongtong beizhao shou, zuihou yige likai Chung-shan lou” (“President Lee, with his hands clasped behind his back, was the last to leave Chung-shan Hall”), Lien-ho-pao, 20 02 1990, p. 3.

28. “Dalao jihui zongtongfu, guanjian shike tan zhenghe” (“A committee of elders assembles at the presidential office at a critical juncture to discuss reconciliation”), Lien-ho wan-pao, 3 03 1990, p. 1.

29. Ibid. The two factional heavyweight leaders were obviously Lee Teng-hui and Li Huan. Bitter about being bypassed as vice-president and increasingly worried about President Lee's ideas for constitutional reform and a new mainland China policy, Li Huan began manoeuvering to exert pressure on President Lee to accede to having his lower limited.

30. “Zongtong guandi yuanlao huiyi” (“The president meets with the oldest former leaders at a meeting held at the presidential residence”), Lien-ho-pao, 4 03 1990, p. 1

31. “Li zongtong bayuan lao huizhang jue yi san da liyou quantui Lin-Chiang” (“President Lee and eight distinguished elders met, discussed, and decided upon three major reasons to advise and compel Lin and Chiang to withdraw their candidacy”), Chung-kuo shih-pao, 4 03 1990, p. 1.

32. “Yong Chiang canhui, Lin-Chiang jubei hujing” (“Supporters of Chiang hold a lunch, and Lin and Chiang toast each other”), Lien-ho wan-pao, 4 03 1990, p. 1.

33. “Li Huan, Lin Yang-kang, Hao Po-ts'un jin wu chuxi zhenghe canhui” (“Li Huan, Lin Yang-kang and Hao Po-ts'un attend the reconciliation luncheon”), Lien-ho wan-pao, 5 03 1990, p. 1.

34. “T'ai-pei Ping-kuan huishang baoshen longlong” (“A meeting at the Taipei Ping-kuan with artillery bombardment”), Tzu-li tsao-pao, 6 03 1990, p. 1. Interviews with several “elders” revealed they exerted strong pressure on Lin and Chiang to resign by insisting that both adhere to KMT party discipline and support the party's nomination.

35. Ibid.

36. “Xianzheng tizhi jisi quangyi, quanli tuidong tongyi daye” (“To collect ideas to expand the advantages of the constitutional system; to push forward with all vigour to achieve the great task of unifying China”), Lien-ho wan-pao, 7 03 1990, p. 1.

37. “Kuomintang zhenghe shibai, shuangtou mache queli” (“KMT reconciliation efforts fail; the two factions are still split”), Tzu-li tsao-pao, 8 03 1990, p. 3, for various comments by major political figures.

38. Ibid.

39. “Li zongtong tanhua weihuo zhengmian huixiang, zhenghe duncou” (“President Lee's speech did not receive a positive response; therefore, reconciliation has met with opposition”), Chung-kuo shih-pao, 8 03 1990, p. 1.

40. “Lianshu daoshu jishi, liangpai renma jiji beizhan” (“Running out of time, the two factions aggressively prepare for the struggle”), Chung-kuo shih-pao, 9 06 1990, p. 1.

41. “Li zongtong: liangzu jingxuan wusuowei” (“President Lee: go ahead and let the two groups compete”), Lien-ho-pao, 9 03 1990, p. 1.

42. “Jingjibu zhengci Wang Chien-hsüan qingci” (“Vice-minister and head of the political affairs section of the economic ministry resigns”), Lien-ho-pao, 9 03 1990, p. 1. Premier Li Huan refused to accept Wang's request, and Wang again tendered his resignation on 27 March, declaring, “I simply want to take a rest and prepare myself for the long road ahead.” China Post, 28 03 1990, p. 6.

43. “Lin Yang-kang xuanbu cixuan, zongtong xuanqing danchunhua” (“Lin Yang-kang declares he will step aside; the presidential election becomes simpler”), Chung-kuo shih-pao, 10 03 1990, p. 1.

44. “Chiang Wei-kuo zhongwu biaoming cixuan taidu” (“At noon, Chiang Wei-kuo expresses his intentions of quitting”), Tzu-li wan-pao, 10 03 1990, p. 1. On the same day, the Taipei stock market shot up 440 points as investors purchased stock, confident that political stability had been restored.

45. “Yung Chiang-pai guodai zaoshi buxie” (“Chiang's assembly supporters will continue to rally behind him until they have failed”), Lien-ho wan-pao, 10 03 1990, p. 1. See also Lien-ho-pao, 11 03 1990, p. 1 for two articles describing in great detail how both men made their public statements of withdrawal from the race. The additional pressures on Chiang Wei-kuo to resign came in the form of public statements highly critical of his candidacy from Chiang Hsiao-wu, the ROC representative to Japan and a nephew of Chiang Wei-kuo, who flew to Taipei to hold a press conference and denounce Chiang Wei-kuo's intention to run. See “Chiang Hsiao-wu tongxin lingdaoqun zhengmo quanwei” (“Chiang Hsiao-wu expresses his grief over the leadership power struggle”), Chung-kuo shih-pao, 10 03 1990, p. 3. See also the public comments of the high-ranking official Chang Hsiao-yen, who spoke critically of Chiang's candidacy in the same paper, p. 3.

46. “Teng Chieh zhengshi xuanbu: tingzhi zhengchao Lin-Chiang” (“Teng Chieh formally declares he will end efforts on behalf of Lin and Chiang”), Lien-ho wan-pao, 16 03 1990, p. 1.

47. “Zhichi Li Teng-hui lianshu yi zhankai” (“Support of Lee Teng-hui nomination begins to take form”), Lien-ho wan-pao, 11 03 1990, p. 1.

48. “Zongtong shenzhong kaolu, xuanqian gongkai tanhua” (“President seriously considers making a public speech before the National Assembly votes”), Lien-ho wanpao, 17 03 1990, p. 1.

49. “Ershiqiwei wei xuanshi xuanshi wuxiao guodai zao tingshi zhiquan” (“Twentyseven Assembly members did not take their oath; therefore, their Assembly rights have been abrogated”), Chung-kuo shih-pao, 13 03 1990, p. 1.

50. Ibid.

51. “Guoda shencha weiyuanhui ershisi fenzhong tongguo” (“Examination Committee of the National Assembly passes a bill in 24 minutes”), Chung-kuo shih-pao, 15 03 1990, p. 1. Other newspapers, however, reported a period of two hours or other lengths of time for the Committee to deliberate and make its recommendations.

52. Government Information Office, Republic of China, Constitution, Republic of China (Taipei, n.d.), pp. 5557 for a list of these 11 articles, which were used in accordance with paragraph 1 of article 174 of the constitution.

53. See “Meinian jihui yice xinshi liangquan” (“Each year the Assembly meets once to exercise its two powers”), Chung-yang jih-pao (Central Daily News, international edition), 16 03 1990, p. 1.

54. Even the KMT party newspaper, the Chung-yang jih-pao, interpreted the Committee's action as one of expanding the power of the National Assembly and disapproved of its action. See “Ziwo pengchang tuli ziji zeng'e guodai dakai minzhu daoche” (“Self-expansion, self-profit, and the Taiwan-elected representatives drive the vehicle of democracy backwards”), Chung-yang jih-pao (international edition), 15 03 1990, p. 1. In this article, the author also criticized some of those members of the Committee who had been elected from Taiwan and tried to extend their term of office beyond two years.

55. “Zujie kaihui minjindang fafeng” (“Prevented from attending the Eighth Congress, the DPP explodes in rage”), Tzu-li tsao-pao, 14 03 1990, p. 1.

56. “President Lee called to end political ‘farce’,” China Post, 16 03 1990, p. 16.

57. “Military police drag away 14 DPP deputies,” China Post, 17 03 1990, p. 12.

58. “Dizhi guoda bamian bake kangshui husheng siqi” (“To oppose the National Assembly, the slogans of mass boycott, cut classes, and resist paying taxes are heard from all quarters”), Chung-kuo shih-pao, 17 03 1990, p. 1.

59. “Zhongzheng jiniantang yuanqi huijidian” (“At the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Auditorium an atmosphere of outrage builds up”), Lien-ho wan-pao, 17 03 1990, p. 1

60. Ibid.

61. “Xuesheng kangyi xindong kuoda” (“New efforts mount in support of student protest”), Chung-kuo shih-pao, 18 03 1990, p. 1.

62. Ibid.

63. “Guoda ru yiyiguxin liyuan jiang shanchu quanbu yusuan” (“If the National Assembly insists on having its way, the Legislative Yuan will eliminate their entire budget”), Chung-kuo shih-pao, 16 03, 1990, p. 1.

64. “Retirement of aging reps second most urgent issue,” China Post, 29 03 1990, p. 12. The China Times also surveyed 834 adults, and 80% stated the National Assembly had no function to perform and they were furious about the Committee's four recommendations. Only 13% stated that the Assembly represented the will of the people. For reference to this survey see “Yuban minzhong buman guodai suowei” (“Over one-half of the people are dissatisfied with the behaviour of the National Assembly”), Chung-yang jih-pao (international edition), 18 03 1990, p. 1.

65. “Li zongtong zhengzhong xuangao minzhu gaige juexin biyou mingque jiaodai” (“President Lee solemnly declares there must be a positive spirit of democratic reform and there will be a clear resolution”), Lien-ho-pao, 18 03 1990, p. 1.

66. “Shengtao guoze zhongzheng jiniantang sanwanren qinuhou” (“Voices denounced the national thieves when some 30,000 people gathered in anger at the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Auditorium”), Tzu-li tsao-pao, 19 03 1990, p. 1.

53. “Lingshi tiaokuan yanchang renqi meinian jihui jue fan'an quxiao” (“National Assembly rejects proposals for meeting every year and extending assemblyman tenure, etc.”), Lien-ho-pao, 19 03 1990, p. 1.

68. “Guoshi huiyi jinqi zhaokai” (“A conference on national affairs will soon be held”), Lien-ho-pao, 19 03 1990, p. 1.

69. “Zenge guodai wuyi yanchang renqi” (“Newly elected National Assembly; representatives have no intention to extend their term of office”), Chung-yang jih-pao (international edition), 18 03 1990, p. 1.

70. “Xuesheng jinzao zhankai jueshi kangyi” (“Early this morning, students begin fasting in protest”), Tzu-li wan-pao, 19 03 1990, p. 1.

71. “Bingji zhao-zhu fang guoshi huitan” (“Seeking a prescription for a medical emergency: a National Affairs Conference will be convened”), Tzu-li tsao-pao, 21 03 1990, p. 1.

72. “Li Teng-hui dangxuan Zhonghua minguo dibaren zongtong” (“Lee Teng-hui is elected as eighth president of the ROC”), Lien-ho-pao, 22 03 1990, p. 1.

73. “Jinzuo xuesheng quanbu cheli zhongzheng jiniantang” (“All sit-in students leave the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial early this morning”), Lien-ho wan-pao, 22 03 1990, p. 1.

74. “Li Yüan-ts'u dang xuan dibaren fuzongtong” (“Li Yüan-ts'u is elected eighth vice-president”), Lien-ho wan-pao, 22 03 1990, p. 1.a

75. Such speculation was published in the foreign press. See McGregor, James, “Taiwan's Lee to face challenge after poll,” Asian Wall Street Journal, Vol. 14, No. 134, (14 03 1990), pp. 1 and 20.

76. Sanger, David E., “Taiwan's new president signals major softening in relations with China,” The New York Times, 21 05 1990, p. A3.

77. See Ling, Ts'ai and Myers, Ramon H., “Manichaean suspicions and the spirit of reconciliation: currents of public opinion in Taiwan on the eve of the 1990 conference on the Republic of China's destiny,” The American Asian Review, Vol. 9, No. 2 (summer 1991), pp. 141; and also “Achieving consensus amidst adversity: the conference to decide the Republic of China's destiny (June 28–July 4, 1990),” ibid., Vol. 9, No. 3 (autumn 1991), pp. 1–40.

* We wish to thank Thomas A. Metzger, Fu-mei Chen, Elsie Wu, Lin Ying and Charles Chen for their comments on early drafts, but we assume all responsibility for errors and omissions as well as interpretations.

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