Given Taiwan’s history of democratic movements against KMT authoritarianism, what led youth activists to begin to try and enter electoral politics after the Sunflower Movement may be a product of a permeable barrier in between social movements and electoral politics which has long existed in Taiwanese politics. Namely, it was a social movement which led Taiwanese to demand the democratic freedoms to be allowed to vote to begin with, and many participants of the democratic movement subsequently entered electoral politics as candidates, some of which later became the present political heavyweights of the DPP.
It is not surprising in light of this history that Taiwanese youth activists in many cases did not see themselves as losing the moral or political credibility they had as social movement leaders if they entered into electoral politics, although with Taiwan’s longstanding history of deeply rooted political corruption, electoral politics sometimes continues to be seen as a “dirty” thing. Entering into electoral politics may, in fact, seem like the only viable of making the changes one wins through a social movement permanent and carrying on the momentum from a social movement.
Candidates and members of the New Power Party during 2016 legislative elections. Photo credit: New Power Party/Facebook
This is more broadly a dilemma which faces social movements the world over, but oftentimes, social movements do not transition well into electoral politics because the freeform, spontaneous nature of social movements cannot translate well into structure. Likewise, movements do tend to lose the moral purity that they had by virtue of their spontaneous nature after entering into electoral politics. But this sometimes does not seem to be the case with Taiwan, in which social movements and electoral politics have long had an intimate and direct relation.
As such, following the Sunflower Movement, one saw a wave of “Third Force” (第三勢力) parties consisting of post-Sunflower activists and significant figures of the movement in 2016 legislative elections, and politicians such as Taipei mayoral candidate Ko Wen-Je (柯文哲) and DPP presidential candidate Tsai Ing-Wen (蔡英文) sought to incorporate young people into their campaigning. It may be that Taiwan’s democratic movement has permanently enshrined the place of the social movement in facilitating political change.
Candidates of the SDP-Greens Alliance campaigning during 2016 legislative elections. Photo credit: Social Democratic Party
All of Taiwan’s recent presidents, including Chen Shui-Bian (陳水扁), Ma Ying-Jeou (馬英九), and Tsai Ing-Wen (蔡英文), were put into power on the heels of widespread protest at the end of their predecessor’s terms. With Chen, this was the tail end of the democracy movement, with the movement to put him in power as Taiwan’s first non-KMT president in history. With Ma, this was the “Red Shirt” (紅衣) movement against Chen, who had come to be seen by many as politically corrupt in a manner no different from members of the KMT. With Tsai, this was, of course, the Sunflower Movement.
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