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Rigger: Machine politics in protracted transition in Taiwan

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Rigger. 2000. Machine politics in protracted transition in Taiwan. Democratization 7.

Puzzle

How do you recognize a transition from authoritarianism to democracy when the democracy is a one-party machine? E.g. we recognize Japan as a democracy even though the LDP dominates it. But what if the LDP were once an autocratic government that transitioned to its current clientelistic state? How would we recognize when democratization had occurred?

Solution/Argument

Taiwan's democratization was completed in 1996--when the first direct presidential elections were held--even though the KMT did not lose a national election until 2000 (due to a failure to coordinate around a single candidate). It had become "a constitutional democracy with a functioning legislature, a popularly elected president, and an increasingly independent judiciary." The KMT's nominating processes had become "more open and transparent," though still not perfect. And the opposition DPP controls local governments for 70% of the population. Moreover, democratic norms and values have taken hold.

Thus, despite continuing corruption and vote buying, Taiwan is now a democracy. Although some authors argue that democracy begins the first time that the incumbent party loses, democracy actually began before the KMT lost the presidency.