Taiwan’s vibrant and competitive democratic system has allowed three peaceful transfers of power between rival parties since 2000, and protections for civil liberties are generally robust. Ongoing concerns include foreign migrant workers’ vulnerability to exploitation and Chinese efforts to influence policymaking, the media, and Taiwan’s democratic infrastructure.
- A law enacted in May allowed same-sex partners to be married, making Taiwan the first country in Asia to authorize such marriages.
- In December, ahead of national elections scheduled for January 2020, the legislature passed a new Anti-Infiltration Act that imposes criminal penalties for illegal foreign involvement in lobbying, electoral campaigns, or election-related disinformation in Taiwan.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||4 4|
The president, who is directly elected for up to two four-year terms, appoints the premier with the consent of the legislature. The Executive Yuan, or cabinet, is made up of ministers appointed by the president on the recommendation of the premier. In practice, the president holds most executive authority.
President Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was elected in 2016 with 56 percent of the vote, defeating two opponents. Direct elections for the president, held since 1996, have generally been considered credible.
The 2018 local elections, in which thousands of offices were contested, including county magistrate and mayoral posts, were shaken up by evidence of Chinese interference in the form of anti-DPP social media propaganda and financial support for opposition Kuomintang (KMT) candidates. It was unclear whether Beijing’s efforts affected the electoral outcome.
At the end of 2019, Taiwan was preparing for national elections in January 2020. The presidential race would pit President Tsai against Kaohsiung mayor Han Kuo-yu of the KMT and Soong Chu-yu of the People First Party.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||4 4|
The unicameral Legislative Yuan has 113 members elected to four-year terms; 73 are directly elected in single-member constituencies, 34 are elected by proportional representation, and 6 are elected by indigenous voters in two multiseat constituencies. In the last legislative elections in 2016, the DPP won 68 seats, leaving the KMT with 35, the New Power Party with 5, the People First Party with 3, and the Non-Partisan Solidarity Union and an independent candidate with 1 seat each. The elections were considered free and fair by international observers.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||4 4|
Elections in Taiwan are administered by the Central Election Commission (CEC). The law mandates that no political party may hold more than one-third of the seats on the CEC.
The 2018 version of the Referendum Act lowered thresholds to permit citizen-initiated ballot measures and decreased the voting age for referendums from 20 to 18 years.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||4 4|
The multiparty political system features vigorous competition between the two major parties, the DPP and KMT. Smaller parties are also able to function without interference and have played a significant role in both presidential and legislative contests. In August 2019, Taipei mayor Ko Wen-je formed the Taiwan People’s Party.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||4 4|
There have been regular democratic transfers of power between rival parties in recent years, and parties in opposition at the national level often control key municipal governments.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||3 4|
Major business owners with interests in China remain an influential force in Taiwanese politics, largely through their close relationship with the KMT and support for its China-friendly policies. The KMT, which governed Taiwan as an authoritarian, one-party state for decades until democratic reforms took hold in the 1980s and 90s, has typically enjoyed a considerable financial advantage over rivals like the DPP, which has traditionally favored greater independence from China. However, the KMT’s advantage has been whittled away in recent years by DPP government investigations into allegations that the KMT improperly acquired public assets during its rule, which has led to many of its accounts being frozen.
Chinese interference in Taiwan’s elections, largely through disinformation campaigns and influence over certain media outlets, remains a serious concern. In December 2019, the legislature passed a new Anti-Infiltration Act that will prohibit foreign powers from funding or directing lobbying efforts, election campaigns, or election-related disinformation in Taiwan. Violations can draw penalties of up to five years in prison. The KMT opposed the measure, warning that it could be used in a politicized manner and violate fundamental rights.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, religious, gender, LGBT, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||4 4|
Taiwan’s constitution grants all citizens the right to vote. This guarantee applies regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity. The 2016 elections increased women’s overall political representation, with female candidates winning the presidency and a record 38 percent of seats in the Legislative Yuan.
Six seats in the Legislative Yuan are reserved for indigenous candidates elected by indigenous voters. An additional two indigenous candidates won seats in 2016 through normal party-list voting. Members of Taiwan’s 16 indigenous groups make up roughly 2 percent of the population.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||4 4|
Elected officials in Taiwan are free to set and implement policy without undue interference from foreign or other unelected actors, though consideration of China plays a significant role in Taiwanese policymaking.
Escalating Chinese pressure continues to threaten Taiwan’s sovereignty. Five countries severed diplomatic relations with Taiwan in 2018 and 2019, largely as a result of financial incentives offered by the Chinese government. At the end of 2019, Taiwan had diplomatic recognition from just 15 countries, including the Holy See.
In April 2019, in a bid to curtail Chinese influence in the economy, the legislature increased the maximum fines for illegal Chinese investments in Taiwan from NT$600,000 (US$19,400) to NT$25 million ($810,000).
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||3 4|
Corruption is significantly less pervasive than in the past, but it remains a problem. Political and business interests are closely intertwined, leading to malfeasance in government procurement. The current DPP-led government has moved to reduce these practices, including through amendments to the Government Procurement Act that were adopted by lawmakers in April 2019.
According to a July 2019 report from the Ministry of Justice, the government prosecuted 568 people for corruption in 2018. Corruption cases proceeded against former officials from both major parties during 2019. In July, former president Ma Ying-jeou was found not guilty in a case in which he was accused of leaking secrets and directing a prosecutor to reveal confidential information. In October, former KMT lawmaker and media tycoon Gary Wang was sentenced to two years and two months in prison for bribing a prison official while serving an earlier sentence for embezzlement; several prison officials received sentences of up to 16 years as part of a broader bribery scandal involving wealthy and powerful inmates, including organized crime figures.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||3 4|
The 2005 Freedom of Government Information Law enables public access to information held by government agencies, including financial audit reports and documents about administrative guidance. Civil society groups are typically able to comment on and influence pending policies and legislation.
Although the government generally operates with openness, policies and regulations related to business are sometimes changed without properly informing the public or the business community.
|Are there free and independent media?||4 4|
The news media reflect a diversity of views and report aggressively on government policies, though many outlets display strong party affiliation in their coverage. Beijing continues to exert influence on Taiwanese media. Key media owners have significant business interests in China or rely on advertising by Chinese companies, leaving them vulnerable to pressure and prone to self-censorship on topics considered sensitive by Beijing. The National Communications Commission (NCC) fined a number of television news channels during 2019 for airing false reports. In January, the NCC proposed legislation meant to strengthen safeguards against media monopolies, and the cabinet has proposed draft measures that would make it a criminal offense to create and disseminate “fake news.”
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||4 4|
Taiwanese of all faiths can worship freely. Religious organizations that choose to register with the government receive tax-exempt status.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||4 4|
Educators in Taiwan can generally write and lecture without interference, and past practices—including prosecutions—aimed at restricting academics’ political activism have been rare in recent years.
In December 2019, a political science professor was reportedly summoned for questioning over an online video in which he accused the DPP of pursuing ideologically driven museum policies; the museum under discussion said the claims were false.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||4 4|
Private discussion is open and free, and there were no reports of the government illegally monitoring online communication in 2019. The government does not restrict internet access.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||4 4|
The 1988 Assembly and Parade Act enables authorities to prosecute protesters who fail to obtain a permit or follow orders to disperse, but freedom of assembly is largely respected in practice.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||4 4|
All civic organizations must register with the government, though registration is freely granted. Nongovernmental organizations typically operate without harassment. In December 2019 the legislature approved a new law creating a national human rights committee.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||3 4|
Trade unions are independent, and most workers enjoy freedom of association, though the government strictly regulates the right to strike. Among other barriers, teachers, workers in the defense industry, and government employees are prohibited from striking.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||4 4|
Taiwan’s judiciary is independent. Court rulings are generally free from political or other undue interference.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||4 4|
Constitutional protections for due process and defendants’ rights are generally upheld, and police largely respect safeguards against arbitrary detention. Although prosecutors and other law enforcement officials have at times engaged in abusive practices, particularly in prominent and politically charged cases, such violations have been less common in recent years.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||4 4|
Both criminal violence and excessive use of force by police are rare in Taiwan, and attorneys are allowed to monitor interrogations to prevent torture.
After a four-year death penalty moratorium, the government resumed executions in 2010. Condemned inmates, after being sedated, are shot from behind at close range. Family members of inmates awaiting the death penalty are typically not informed about scheduled execution dates. Nearly all death sentences are imposed for murder.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||3 4|
The constitution provides for the equality of all citizens before the law, although indigenous people continue to face social and economic discrimination, leading to high unemployment, lower wages, and barriers to education and social services. The 2017 Indigenous Languages Development Act designated the languages spoken by 16 officially recognized indigenous groups as national languages of Taiwan, and authorized their formal use in legislative and legal affairs.
The constitution guarantees women equal rights, though women continue to face discrimination in employment and compensation. Taiwanese law prohibits discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation, and violence against LGBT+ people is adequately addressed by police.
Taiwanese law does not allow for asylum or refugee status, although developments in Hong Kong have put pressure on the government to accept claims by Hong Kong residents, who are legally entitled to assistance if their safety and liberty are under immediate threat. In many cases Hong Kong protesters seeking refuge in Taiwan have entered under temporary visas and are unable to work legally.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||4 4|
Taiwan’s residents enjoy freedom of movement, and Taiwanese authorities have gradually eased restrictions on travel between Taiwan and China in recent years.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||3 4|
Although property rights are generally respected, urban renewal and industrial projects have been criticized for unfairly displacing residents. Housing advocates have called for legal amendments to clarify residency rights, including protections against forced eviction, and the establishment of an appeals system to review alleged violations. Indigenous groups argue that recent government efforts to return some of their ancestral lands are inadequate.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||4 4|
A law enacted in May 2019 allows same-sex partners to be married, delivering on a campaign promise of President Tsai and making Taiwan the first country in Asia to authorize such marriages. The Constitutional Court had ruled in 2017 that the same-sex marriage ban in Taiwan’s civil code was unconstitutional.
Citizenship laws discriminate against people from mainland China, as spouses from mainland China married to Taiwanese nationals must wait six years before becoming eligible for citizenship, whereas spouses of other nationalities are only required to wait four years.
Rape and domestic violence remain serious problems. Although the law permits authorities to investigate complaints without victims pressing charges, cultural norms inhibit many women from reporting these crimes to the police. Recent reforms have improved protections for accusers and encouraged reporting of rape and sexual assault, which appears to have increased prosecution and conviction rates.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||3 4|
Over 600,000 foreign migrants work in Taiwan, with many employed as domestic workers and fishermen who are not covered by the Labor Standards Act, excluding them from minimum wage, overtime, and paid leave protections. Foreign migrant workers are consequently at substantial risk of exploitation, as indicated by widespread accounts of unpaid wages, poor working conditions, physical and sexual abuse, and extortion and fraud by recruitment and brokerage agencies. To address the problem, the legislature passed amendments to the Employment Services Act in 2018, requiring employment agencies to swiftly report abuses against migrant workers or face severe fines.
Legislation to impose stricter worker protections on fishing companies took effect in 2017. However, labor advocates report poor implementation, citing ongoing mistreatment and abuse of foreign fishermen on Taiwanese vessels.
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Global Freedom Score93 100 free