Freedom in the World
Taiwan’s political rights rating improved from 2 to 1 due to enforcement of anticorruption laws, including the prosecution of former high-ranking officials. However, the country’s civil liberties rating declined from 1 to 2 due to flaws in the protection of criminal defendants’ rights and limitations on academic freedom, including passage of a law restraining scholars at public educational facilities from participating in certain political activities.
Former president Chen Shui-bian of the Democratic Progressive Party was sentenced to life in prison on corruption charges in September 2009, though some observers raised concerns over flaws in the handling of his and other corruption cases. Following criticism of the government’s response to Typhoon Morakot, Prime Minister Liu Chao-shiuan resigned in September. The Kuomintang government continued to improve relations with China during the year, leading to Taiwanese participation in UN-affiliated institutions for the first time since 1971. However, there were also growing concerns over restrictions on free expression, including limitations on academic freedom and pressure to limit criticism of Taiwanese and Chinese government policy.
Though many Taiwanese supported improved economic ties with China, critics argued that the administration was conceding elements of Taiwan’s sovereignty, moving too quickly, and acting with minimal transparency. Several incidents during 2009 stoked fears that growing economic and diplomatic reliance on the PRC would increase pressure to self-censor on issues Beijing deemed sensitive or important. For example, the government in September refused to issue a visa to Rebiya Kadeer, a prominent advocate for the rights of China’s Uighur minority. Meanwhile, Beijing maintained an aggressive legal and military stance on the prospect of eventual Taiwanese independence; an estimated 1,300 missiles remained aimed at the island at year’s end.
Taiwan is an electoral democracy. The 1946 constitution, adopted while the KMT was in power on the mainland, created a unique structure with five branches of government (yuan). The president, who is directly elected for up to two four-year terms, wields executive power, appoints the prime minister, and can dissolve the legislature. The Executive Yuan, or cabinet, consists of ministers appointed by the president on the recommendation of the prime minister. The prime minister is responsible to the national legislature (Legislative Yuan), which, under constitutional amendments that took effect in 2008, consists of 113 members serving four-year terms; 73 are elected in single-member districts, and 34 are chosen through nationwide proportional representation. The six remaining members are chosen by indigenous people. The three other branches of government are the judiciary (Judicial Yuan), a watchdog body (Control Yuan), and a branch responsible for civil service examinations (Examination Yuan).
Taiwanese women face private-sector job discrimination and lower pay than men on average. After the 2008 elections, women held 30 percent of the LY seats. Rape and domestic violence remain problems despite government programs to protect women and the work of numerous NGOs to improve women’s rights. Although authorities can pursue such cases without the victims formally pressing charges, cultural norms inhibit many women from reporting the crimes. Taiwan is both a source and destination for trafficked women.In January 2009, the legislature passed a law that specifically criminalized sex and labor trafficking while increasing penalties for such offenses.