What you need to know
Founding a political party is far easier than dissolving one under current rules.
Between the drama of the Kuomintang (KMT) and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), its easy to forget that Taiwan has an alphabet soup of other politicians and parties waiting in the wings. There are 319 political parties currently active in Taiwan, half of which were formed within the past eight years.
According to the Ministry of the Interior, Taiwan has 324 registered political parties, five of which have ever been dissolved. The figure below shows the roster of registered political parties; the first was the China Zhonghe Party (中國中和黨) formed on April 5, 1894, followed a few months later by the KMT. After a long pause during decades of war and military rule, the next party to be formed was the DPP in 1986.
This rate has shot through the roof, with a mean average of about one political party formed every 20 days over the past 11 years. We can see that the there is a wave of political parties formed right before an election, with surges occurring in 2007, 2011 and 2015.
As Taiwan’s political culture has evolved, so have the names of the political parties within the ecosystem. The figure below shows the percentage of political parties that include the three most common prefixes: Zhonghua (中華), Zhongguo (中國) and Taiwan (台灣).
The figures show that Zhongguo – a name used by the Communist Party of China and others to refer to China as a geographical and political entity – was by far the most popular identifier for political parties before 2000, with about one in four using it. However, in line with the administration of former Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) "de-sinicization" drive that comprised the re-naming of many of institutions and landmarks, use of the term has declined and now less than 4 percent of Taiwan's political parties feature it.
Conversely, Zhonghua, a term loosely meaning “Chinese in a cultural sense”, has been on the rise with each successive election, with 10 percent of political parties now using the term. "Taiwan" enjoyed its own period of popularity in line with the 2004 decision by the Chen administration to drop the name of Republic of China (ROC) in favor of ROC (Taiwan) in official documentation for circulation overseas.
The 2000s also witnessed a rush of enthusiasm for founding parties representing indigenous peoples and overseas immigrants.This period saw the formation of several religious parties with names such as Tianzhou (天宙, universe). Three Hakka parties came into existence during this time as well.
Parties advocating more niche issues such as animal protection, environmentalism, Kinmen gaoliang and fighting media monopolies were founded in the post-2010 period.
However, these frenetic bouts of political zeal often have little meaningful impact; no more than 30 political parties have actually participated in an election. In the 2016 Legislative Yuan elections, for example, only 28 political parties fielded candidates, of which 15 came from organizations established after 2014.
Many of these parties still exist simply because it is much easier to create a political party than to dissolve one. There are currently few rules regarding the establishment of a party and they are exceptionally difficult to dissolve, but this is on the verge of changing. The Legislative Yuan in November passed at third reading a new Political Party Act, which will standardize party governance and make it easier for political parties to dissolve once it is finally approved by the Executive Yuan.
Under this new law, parties that do not nominate an electoral candidates for four consecutive years will be automatically dissolved, so we may soon see the end of many of these obscure little parties.
Longest party name: Republic of China Taiwan 300 Year Constitution Revolutionary Action Party (中華民國臺灣三○○年憲政革命行動黨).
Shortest names: Labor Party (工黨), White Party (白黨), Tiger Party (虎黨), Dragon Party (龍黨), New Party (新黨), Correct Party (正黨), Round Party (圓黨), Green Party (綠黨) and the Trees Party (樹黨). (Please contribute better translations in the comments.)
The first party to use the name Taiwan was the Taiwan Indigenous Party (台灣原住民黨) in 1990.
Taipei is host to 192 parties, 60 percent of the total. Hsinchu, Chiayi, Penghu and Matzu have no registered political parties.
You can find an unabridged Chinese-language version of this article here.
Editor: Morley J Weston