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 the Chinese government’s efforts to influence policymaking, the media, and democratic infrastructure in Taiwan.
- In January, incumbent president Tsai Ing-wen and her Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) were returned to power in general elections that drew the highest voter turnout since 2008, despite online disinformation and influence operations targeting the vote that were attributed to the Chinese government.
- The government’s approach to the COVID-19 pandemic was among the world’s most successful. Avoiding any abusive restrictions, officials focused on contact tracing and quarantines for overseas travelers, and provided accurate and timely information to the public. Just seven coronavirus-related deaths were reported for the entire year.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
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.
Presidential elections have generally been considered credible. In January 2020, President Tsai won a second term in office with 57.1 percent of the vote, defeating Han Kuo-yu of the conservative Kuomintang (KMT), with 38.6 percent, and James Soong of the center-right People First Party, with 4.3 percent. The campaign period featured online disinformation and influence operations that were attributed to the Chinese government, with negative or misleading content targeting Tsai, the DPP, and the democratic process. However, the Taiwanese government, civil society projects, and social media platforms worked to detect and counter the disinformation, which largely failed to shape the election’s outcome.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
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 January 2020 elections, the DPP secured 61 seats, the KMT won 38, the Taiwan People’s Party won 5, the New Power Party won 3, and the Taiwan Statebuilding Party took 1 seat, with the remainder going to independent candidates. 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?||4.004 4.004|
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, and it operates impartially in practice.
The 2018 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?||4.004 4.004|
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. Taipei mayor Ko Wen-je formed the new Taiwan People’s Party in 2019, and it entered the legislature in 2020.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||4.004 4.004|
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?||3.003 4.004|
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, long 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, leading to the freezing of many of its accounts.
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, though there were no reports of abusive enforcement in 2020.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||4.004 4.004|
Taiwan’s constitution grants all citizens the right to vote. This guarantee applies regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity. The constitution and electoral laws also provide quotas for women’s representation in local councils and at-large seats in the Legislative Yuan. In addition to the presidency, women won 42 percent of the legislature’s seats in the 2020 elections. Audrey Tang, who became Taiwan’s first transgender cabinet member in 2016, remained a minister in Tsai’s government in 2020.
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, but none did so in 2020. 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?||4.004 4.004|
Elected officials in Taiwan are able 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 pressure from Beijing continues to threaten Taiwan’s sovereignty. Between 2016 and 2020, largely as a result of financial incentives offered by the Chinese government, eight countries severed diplomatic relations with Taiwan. At the end of 2020, Taiwan had diplomatic recognition from just 15 countries, including the Holy See.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||3.003 4.004|
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 2019.
Corruption charges have been brought against current and former officials from multiple parties in recent years. Among other cases during 2020, four incumbent lawmakers—two from the KMT, one from the DPP, and one independent—and a former legislator from the New Power Party were charged in September with taking bribes from business magnate Lee Heng-lung, former chairman of Pacific Distribution Investment Co.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||4.004 4.004|
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. In recent years, the open digital platform vTaiwan has gained acceptance among policymakers as a means for the general public to debate and contribute to legislative proposals.
The government’s management of the COVID-19 pandemic was widely recognized for its transparency and reliance on scientific data and expertise, as opposed to opaque political or economic interests.
Score Change: The score improved from 3 to 4 due to long-term progress toward greater transparency and public participation in governance and policymaking, as demonstrated by the government’s successful management of the COVID-19 pandemic.
|Are there free and independent media?||4.004 4.004|
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) has at times blocked the expansion of such media enterprises to ensure competition and pluralism, and it has fined television news channels for airing false reports. In November 2020, after repeated warnings and fines issued over several years, the NCC decided not to renew the broadcast license of the pro-Beijing television channel CTi News. The outlet—owned by business magnate Tsai Eng-meng’s Want Want Holdings conglomerate, which has strong ties to China—went off the air in December after courts upheld the decision. Reporters Without Borders issued a statement to defend the NCC’s move, saying it was not contrary to press freedom.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||4.004 4.004|
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?||4.004 4.004|
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.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||4.004 4.004|
Personal expression and private discussion are largely free of improper restrictions, and the government is not known to illegally monitor online communication. Human rights experts have recommended improvements to laws meant to combat misinformation, some of which contain vague terms that have the potential to limit legitimate speech, though such laws are generally not enforced in an abusive manner.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||4.004 4.004|
The 1988 Assembly and Parade Act enables authorities to prosecute protesters who fail to obtain a permit or follow orders to disperse, and includes some restrictions on the location of protests, but freedom of assembly is largely respected in practice. During 2020, demonstrations were held on topics including the rights of migrant workers and discrimination against Indigenous people. Taiwan was one of the few countries in the world to hold an LGBT+ pride march, with many others canceled due to the pandemic.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||4.004 4.004|
All civic organizations must register with the government, though registration is freely granted. Nongovernmental organizations typically operate without harassment or undue interference.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||3.003 4.004|
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?||4.004 4.004|
Taiwan’s judiciary is independent. Court rulings are generally free from political or other improper interference.
In July 2020, the legislature adopted the Citizen Judges Act, which would move the country toward a Japan-style system in which professional judges are joined by lay judges from the general public in overseeing trials for serious criminal offenses. Critics of the system continued to call for the introduction of jury trials instead, arguing that juries provide stronger protections against judicial corruption or politicization.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||4.004 4.004|
Constitutional guarantees concerning due process and defendants’ rights are generally upheld, and police largely respect safeguards against arbitrary detention. Although prosecutors and other law enforcement officials have engaged in abusive practices in the past, particularly in prominent and politically fraught 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?||4.004 4.004|
Both criminal violence and excessive use of force by police are rare, and attorneys are allowed to monitor interrogations to prevent torture.
After a four-year death penalty moratorium, the government resumed executions in 2010. Between zero and six people have been executed each year since, all for murder or other offenses resulting in death, such as arson. Condemned inmates, after being sedated, are shot from behind at close range.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||3.003 4.004|
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 and education based on sexual orientation, and violence against LGBT+ people is adequately addressed by police.
Taiwan’s National Human Rights Commission was officially launched in August 2020, with a mandate to receive complaints on issues including discrimination, investigate violations, review laws and policies, and work with other entities to promote human rights protections.
Taiwanese law does not allow for asylum or refugee status, but the government has worked to provide visas and humanitarian services to people fleeing persecution in Hong Kong.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||4.004 4.004|
Taiwan’s residents enjoy freedom of movement, and Taiwanese authorities have gradually eased restrictions on travel between Taiwan and China in recent years. Some travel constraints were enacted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, but these were generally regarded as legitimate public health measures.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||3.003 4.004|
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?||4.004 4.004|
There are no major restrictions on personal status matters such as marriage and divorce, although people from China who are 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. Same-sex marriages have been legal in Taiwan since 2019.
Rape and domestic violence remain serious problems. While 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?||3.003 4.004|
Over 700,000 foreign migrants work in Taiwan; many employed as domestic workers or fishermen 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. Amendments to the Employment Services Act that were adopted in 2018 require employment agencies to swiftly report abuses against migrant workers or face severe fines.
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Global Freedom Score94 100 free