The Chinese Nationalist Party, better known as the Kuomintang—KMT, was, until 2000, the dominant political party in Taiwan. The teachings of Sun Yat-sen (Sun Zhongshan), which stress nationalism, democracy, and people's livelihood, form the ideology of the party. After the fall of the mainland to the Communists in 1949, a reform committee was organized to chart a new program for the party.
The KMT's organization is similar to that of the Chinese Communist Party. The basic unit is the cell, which represents neighborhoods. The next levels include the district, county, and provincial congresses and committees. The highest levels include the National Congress and the Central Committee. The National Congress delegates serve four-year terms and is charged with the tasks of amending the party charter, determining the party platform and other important policies. It also elects the party chairman and the Central Committee members, and approves candidates nominated by the chairman to serve as vice chairmen and members of the Central Advisory Council. When the National Congress is in recess, the supreme party organ is the Central Committee, which holds a plenary session every year.
The Central Standing Committee, which represents the Central Committee when that body is not in session, is the most influential organ in the KMT. The day-to-day affairs of the party are managed by the secretariat. All organization within the KMT are funded by profits from party-owned and operated business enterprises, ranging from newspapers and TV stations to electrical appliance companies and computer firms.
At the party's 14th National Congress held in August 1993, significant changes to the conduct of party affairs were made. It decided that the party chairman was to be elected by the National Congress through secret ballot. President Lee Teng-hui won 83% of the votes cast and was reelected chairman of the party. In addition, four vice-chairmen were added to the Central Committee after being nominated by the chairman and approved by the National Congress. It also decided that the chairman would appoint only ten to 15 of the 31 members of the Central Standing Committee, with the remaining members elected by the Central Committee. Finally, it decided to hold the National Congress every two years instead of four years.
Under martial law, from 1949 through 1986, the formation of new political parties was illegal, although there were two nominal, previously formed parties. Non-KMT candidates ran as independents or "Nonpartisans," with increasing success by the end of the 1970s. In September 1986, a group of "nonpartisans" formed a new opposition party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which had an orientation toward the Taiwanese population and advocated "self-determination." Although technically illegal, the DPP's candidates took 22% of the vote in the December 1986 elections, winning 12 out of 73 contested seats in the Legislative Yuan; the KMT won 59. The lifting of martial law in 1987 made the formation of new parties legal, although a new security law continued to restrict political activity. In the first fully competitive, democratic national elections, in December 1992, the KMT won 53% and the DPP 31% of the votes for the Legislative Yuan. Before the 1995 legislative elections, the KMT began to splinter and in 1994 the Chinese New Party (CNP) was formed by KMT defectors who favored strengthened ties with the mainland. In the 1995 balloting, however, the KMT was able to maintain its majority, winning 83 of the 164 seats in the Legislative Yuan. The DPP took 54, the CNP took 21 and six seats were won by independents. In the National Assembly (334 seats) the KMT took 183, the DPP 99, the CNP 46, and six were won by others.
The Democratic Progressive Party was formed on 28 September 1986. The party's organizational structure closely resembles that of the Kuomintang. The DPP's National Congress elects members to the Central Executive Committee and to the Central Advisory Committee. The Central Executive Committee in turn elects the members of the Central Standing Committee. Its leader is President Chen Shui-bian. At the party's sixth National Congress, held in April and May of 1994, a two-tier primary system was initiated under which ordinary members of the DPP voted for candidates in one primary election and party cadres vote in a second primary. The results of the two would then be combined, with equal weight given to both. At the second plenary meeting of the sixth National Congress held in March 1995, the nomination process for the presidential and gubernatorial candidates was modified to add open primaries for DPP members and nonmembers. It was further decided at the meeting that the party chairman would be elected directly by all members of the party starting in 1998. What most distinguishes the DPP from the two other major parties is its support of Taiwan independence, or the permanent political separation of Taiwan from the Chinese mainland. Although the DPP has incorporated Taiwan independence into its official platform, the urgency accorded to its realization is a source of factional contention within the party.
The Chinese New Party (NP) was formed in August 1993, shortly before the Kuomintang's 14th National Congress by a group of KMT reformers who broke away from the party in protest of the undemocratic practices of the KMT. The NP adopted an anticorruption platform and championed social justice. The goal of the NP was to attract voters who were dissatisfied with the performance of the ruling KMT and opposed to the DPP's advocacy of Taiwan independence.
As of early 2003, there were 4 significant political parties operating in Taiwan. The DPP, which won the presidential and legislative elections of 2000 and 2001, respectively, is the largest party. It took 87 seats in the Legislative Yuan in December 2001 election. The KMT took 68 seats, and is currently the second largest party in the Legislative Yuan. The People First Party (PFP), founded by James Soong following his second-place finish in the 2000 presidential election, is now the third largest party with 46 seats. The fourth major political party, based on its membership in the Legislative Yuan, is the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU), winning 13 seats. As of June 2002, a total of 99 political parties had registered with the Ministry of the Interior.