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 inadequate safeguards against the exploitation of foreign migrant workers, and the Chinese government’s efforts to influence policymaking, the media, and democratic infrastructure in Taiwan.
- In the second year of her second term as president, Tsai Ing-wen and her Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government faced increased pressure from Chinese authorities regarding the island’s status, disinformation on social media platforms, and pro-Beijing influence operations targeting Taiwanese media.
- Despite a rise in COVID-19 cases and deaths beginning in May, the government’s approach to the pandemic continued to be viewed as one of the world’s most successful, and case numbers remained relatively low. While local authorities and factory owners in some areas were criticized for discriminatory treatment of migrant workers in response to the outbreak, the national government was largely able to contain the virus without having to adopt lengthy and severe domestic restrictions, focusing instead on contact tracing, quarantines for overseas travelers, and providing accurate and timely information to the public. A successful vaccination campaign was carried out during the second half of the 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 won 5 seats in the legislature in 2020. The Taiwan Statebuilding Party was also new to the legislature that year.
|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 placed a stronger emphasis on resisting Beijing’s moves toward unification. 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 late 2019, the legislature passed a new Anti-Infiltration Act that prohibits 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 as of 2021. Beijing’s efforts to undermine public confidence in the political system and to heighten social divisions in Taiwan intensified during the year, with disinformation campaigns focused on the government’s handling of the pandemic in particular.
|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 2021.
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 and its open democratic system. Eight countries have severed diplomatic relations with Taiwan since late 2016, largely as a result of financial incentives offered by the Chinese government. At the end of 2021, Taiwan had diplomatic recognition from just 14 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 concern. According to a 2020 survey by Transparency International, 90 percent of people in Taiwan think corruption in government is a problem, and 17 percent of public service users had paid a bribe over a 12-month period. 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 in 2019.
Corruption charges have been brought against current and former officials from multiple parties in recent years. In 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 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 continued to be widely recognized for its transparency and reliance on scientific data and expertise, as opposed to opaque political or economic interests. Despite a rise in cases that began in May 2021, public trust in the government’s efforts contributed to participation in its vaccination drive later in the year.
|Are there free and independent media?||4.004 4.004|
The news media are generally free, reflecting a diversity of views and reporting aggressively on government policies, though many outlets display strong party affiliation in their coverage.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) 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 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—one of several owned by business magnate Tsai Eng-meng’s Want Want Holdings conglomerate, which has strong ties to China—went off the air after courts upheld the decision. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) issued a statement to defend the NCC’s move, saying it was not contrary to press freedom.
Under Taiwan’s libel laws, those who disseminate a fact that will “injure the reputation of another” can face criminal prosecution, with sentences of up to two years in prison or a fine. The risk of criminal libel charges or demands for compensation could inhibit journalists in their reporting, even if courts ultimately rule in their favor. In March 2021, prosecutors dropped a case against the Financial Times and other outlets after the Want Want China Times Media Group withdrew its complaints, which pertained to a 2019 report alleging that the group received regular orders from the Chinese government about its news coverage.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||4.004 4.004|
Individuals 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. However, some university professors have alleged pressure from administrators to curb speech that could offend Chinese students.
|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. However, the government faces the growing challenge of combating online disinformation emanating from China while upholding freedom of expression. Human rights experts have recommended improvements to laws meant to combat false information, which contain vague terms that have the potential to limit legitimate speech. Such laws are enforced against social media users, though most cases do not lead to convictions, and those found guilty are typically ordered to pay small fines.
|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 2021, demonstrations were held by workers calling on the government to raise the minimum wage and repair a deficit-ridden pension program, by migrant workers’ groups demanding legislation to protect migrant home-care workers, and by civil society organizations condemning local governments and businesses for imposing discriminatory movement restrictions on migrant workers in response to a COVID-19 outbreak.
|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 2020, the legislature adopted the Citizen Judges Act, which will move the country toward a Japan-style system in which professional judges are joined by lay judges from the general public when 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.
The frequency of capital punishment has remained low in recent years, with a total of three people put to death since 2016, and none in 2021. All of those executed were found guilty of murder or other offenses resulting in death, such as arson. Condemned inmates are hooded and sedated before being shot.
|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 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. The government has worked to provide temporary visas and humanitarian services to tens of thousands of people fleeing persecution in Hong Kong, but it has reportedly been more restrictive in granting requests for permanent residency.
|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. However, despite laws and guidelines meant to protect them, some categories of foreign migrant workers routinely experience illegitimate restrictions on their movement, such as the withholding of travel documents by employers.
While travel and movement constraints enacted by the government in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have generally been regarded as legitimate public health measures, some rules have been applied in a manner that discriminates against foreigners. After case clusters in the spring of 2021 particularly affected migrant workers living in factory dormitories in Miaoli County, local officials ordered all such workers to stay indoors except to go to work. Certain employers also ordered migrant workers who were living in private accommodations to move back into factory dormitories. Although most of these policies were formally in place for less than a month, some workers reported being subject to movement restrictions for several months.
|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 recognize their claims to ancestral lands are inadequate, as the project applies only to state-owned land, excluding large segments of territory that are privately owned.
|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|
Protections against exploitative working conditions in Taiwan are relatively strong overall, and civil society groups actively expose abuses and advocate for policy improvements. Certain amendments to the Labour Standards Act in 2018 were considered a setback, however, as they allowed employers to require 12 consecutive days of work with breaks of only eight hours between shifts, up from the previous limit of seven consecutive workdays and breaks of 11 hours between shifts.
Many of Taiwan’s roughly 715,000 foreign migrant workers are mistreated or exploited by employers in practice, despite 2018 amendments to the Employment Services Act that require employment agencies to swiftly report abuses against migrant workers or face severe fines. The Labor Standards Act notably does cover foreign domestic workers or fishery workers, and there have been widespread accounts of such individuals being subjected to unpaid wages, long working hours, physical and sexual abuse, lack of food or medical care, denial of sleep, substandard safety equipment, poor living conditions, and extortion or fraud by recruitment and brokerage agencies. They are frequently found to be indebted to complex brokerage networks. Abuses are particularly prevalent in Taiwan’s fleet of hundreds of long-range fishing vessels, whose remote operations make monitoring and enforcement of basic labor rules difficult. In another form of mistreatment, for-profit universities have reportedly recruited foreign students—especially from Indonesia—and then placed them into exploitative labor conditions under the pretense of educational opportunity.
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Global Freedom Score94 100 free
Internet Freedom Score79 100 free