In 1946, the KMT, still operating in the mainland, enacted a new constitution. This document, which is geared toward the governance of mainland China, was transferred to Taiwan and is still relied upon to this day. According to the KMT, the constitution derives its inspiration from the book Three Principles of the People, by Dr. Sun Yat-sen, the party’s founder. The principles are nationalism, democracy, and the peoples’ livelihood (a vague welfare state notion). Sun argued that China was too backward to adopt multi-party democracy immediately. Rather, he insisted on an initial transition period of benevolent KMT dictatorship, called "tutelage." It is debatable whether this profoundly undemocratic principle ever made sense for China; the KMT’s rule of the mainland from the mid-1920s until 1949 was anything but benevolent, nor did it lead to democracy. It is clear that Sun’s vision of "democracy" had nothing to do with Taiwan, where people were eager and ready for self-rule when the KMT arrived in 1945.

The constitution establishes a variety of government institutions and people’s rights and freedoms, but these have little to do with how the KMT has actually governed Taiwan. According to the constitution, the National Assembly, elected on the basis of universal suffrage, is the supreme organ of popular sovereignty. It selects the President and vice-president, whom it may recall, and has the power to amend the constitution and redefine the national borders. Since 1949, the assembly has also been charged with planning "recovery of the mainland."

Under this supreme council are five subordinate councils called yuan. These are a blend of the separate branches of government found in Western democracies and Japan and the traditional Chinese Confucian bureaucracy.

The Executive Yuan is headed by the Premier, who is appointed by the President, subject to confirmation by the Legislative Yuan, which can remove him or her by a two-thirds vote. The Premier appoints additional cabinet ministers and agency directors. The Executive Yuan is responsible for formulating and executing national policies and proposing an annual budget and legislation to the Legislative Yuan.

The Legislative Yuan is elected on the basis of universal suffrage. Members have the right to ask the Premier questions about national policies and legislative proposals and to initiate legislation on their own. The Legislative Yuan also has the right to propose constitutional amendments to the National Assembly, and must approve declarations of martial law.

The President appoints the members of the Judicial Yuan, who sit as the Council of Grand Justices and have the right to interpret the constitution. Their appointments are subject to confirmation by the Control Yuan. They also supervise the civil, criminal, administrative, and appellate courts, and can discipline public officials.

The Control Yuan is indirectly elected by provincial legislatures, which in turn are directly elected on the basis of universal suffrage. This body is in charge of auditing government agencies and censoring government officials for misconduct.

Finally, The Examination Yuan is essentially a civil service commission. It maintains and administers examinations for government jobs, and handles other personnel matters.

The people are not only guaranteed the right to elect public officials, but the rights of referendum, initiative, and recall, along with freedom of association, assembly, expression, and religion. The constitution permits the government to restrict these rights "to prevent infringement upon the freedoms of other persons, to avert an imminent crisis, to maintain social order, or to advance public welfare."

In 1947 and 1948, the only general elections ever held under the authority of this constitution took place in the areas under KMT control. The KMT won most of the seats, with a handful going to two small allied parties, the Young China Party and the China Social Democratic Party. Since the CCP already controlled much of the mainland by that time, the elections, could only fill some of the parliamentary seats.

In 1947, the KMT government had declared a state of emergency, the "Period of Mobilization for the Suppression of the Communist Rebellion." The following year, the authorities added a set of "Temporary Provisions" to the constitution. These were to remain in effect during this "Mobilization", and allowed the president to seek more than two terms and to exercise various emergency powers, such as declaring martial law without the approval of the Legislative Yuan. In addition, the provisions allowed the parliamentarians elected in 1947-1948 to remain in office until the KMT defeated the communist rebellion, i.e., for life. The KMT insists that this parliament remains the legitimate representative assembly of all China. In reality, this claim is simply a means of excluding Taiwanese from participating in policy-making as well as justifying the claim of legitimacy over China.

Martial law further restricted constitutional rights, allowing the authorities to suspend civil liberties, ban strikes and demonstrations, and forbid the creation of new political parties. Although the two "opposition" parties from the mainland continued to exist, they quickly came under the near total control of the KMT, which kept them alive as proof of "democracy in the Republic of China."

Between 1984 and 1969, the KMT government held to national parliamentary elections. As aging National Assembly members began to die off at an accelerating pace, the KMT named losing candidates from the original election to fill some of the vacancies. Finally, beginning in 1969 and periodically thereafter, under heavy pressure from native politicians, the authorities have held "supplementary" elections, in which voters fill a limited number of parliamentary seats representing the "Taiwan area." Prior to the lifting of martial law, the government permitted non-KMT candidates to contest these elections as independents, but forbade coalitions of these candidates. Members of KMT controlled organizations representing business, labor, women and Aborigines vote to fill a number of special seats, and the President also appoints representatives of "overseas Chinese.." This adds to the KMT’s guaranteed majority and helps to offset deaths among the life members.

After the elections of 1986 for the National Assembly and 1989 for the Legislative Yuan, the seats filled by Taiwan’s voters on the basis of geographic constituencies accounted for less than 12% of the members of the three chambers, although those Taiwan voters pay nearly 100% of the republic of China’s taxes and perform almost 100% of the duties of cities. Following the 1989 contest, the members representing the mainland still accounted for more than 82% of all parliamentarians. Their average age is nearly 80, and many of the surviving "life members" are quite infirm. The Economist magazine has called this a "parliament pickled in formaldehyde."


The KMT’s Martial Law Police State

In order to defeat the warlords who then dominated most of China in the 1920s, the KMT sought advice from the Soviet Union and was subsequently reorganized along Leninist lines, with decisions controlled by a self-perpetuating elite at the top and a mass membership that has penetrated and dominated all institutions on Taiwan. As in the Soviet Union until recently, The KMT operates as a "state within the state": the party makes decisions and the government implements them.

Though the KMT was once dominated by mainlander refugees, today about 80% of its members were born in Taiwan. Taiwanese hold an increasing share of leadership posts. Nevertheless, the military, security, and ideology organs of both the party and state remain dominated by post-1949 refugees from the mainland and their Taiwan-born children. It has been difficult, until quite recently, for people in Taiwan to advance in such occupations as teaching, the civil service, or the military without KMT membership. Executives of major corporations, including many wealthy native Taiwanese, have also joined the party, and party connections mean ready access to government contracts and licenses. Today, about 2 million people belong to the KMT.

Until the early 1970s, the KMT imposed severe restrictions on all political, economic, and social activity. Throughout the 1950s and into the 1960s, the authorities sharply limited all forms of peaceful dissent and suppressed civil and political rights. Those who sought to establish labor unions, farmer associations, professional groups, or civic organizations outside of the KMT’s control found themselves subject to charges of sedition and either a death sentence or long terms in prison. Until 1988, the authorities subjected all printed materials to government review, forbade the establishment of independent daily newspapers, and maintained a monopoly on broadcasting’s. From elementary school, on, students repeatedly heard propaganda denouncing communism and Taiwan independence. During the first 15 years of KMT rule of Taiwan, this police state repression was organized and carried out under the zealous leadership of Chiang Kai-sheck’s son, Chiang Ching-kuo.

Secret police agents and KMT operatives maintain a presence within schools, workplaces, neighborhoods, and most private organizations. These official agents of repression often collaborate with organized crime groups and freelance vigilantes to enforce KMT power. They remain a powerful force on the island.

Until quite recently, those who tried to protest against this police state found themselves subject to harsh penalties. Between 1949 and 1979, according to one study, the KMT authorities executed hundreds of dissidents. This figure does not include extra-judicial executions which may have had state sanction. The same study reports that between 1949 and 1985, the KMT jailed 600 people on sedition charges for an average of 10 years each, 81 of these people received life sentences. The vast majority of these political prisoners were not violent subversives, but peaceful advocates of amore open political system. Because of martial law, they were subject to trials by military courts controlled by the KMT. These proceedings often took place in secret, with severe limitations on the right to an attorney and due process of law. Many political prisoners underwent torture prior to these trials, and found themselves unable to repudiate coerced confessions.

Government institutions places a thin constitutional veil over the police state. The National Assembly dutifully re-elected Chiang Kai-shek President five terms every six years, and then elected and re-elected Chiang Ching-kuo following his father’s death in 1975. In reality, it is all a charade. The KMT’s Central Standing committee (Politburo) makes all the key decisions about executive branch personnel and policy, with the cabinet and parliament merely acting as a rubber stamp.

Local government has displays a similar gap between theory and reality. The KMT began allowing popular elections of local legislatures and executives, along with the Taiwan Provincial Assembly, in the 1950s. These contests regularly attracted 70-80% of the eligible voters. However, the "temporary Provisions" of the constitution greatly restricted the powers of local government over policy and financial matters. Also, when residents of Taipei and Kaohsiung repeatedly elected non-KMT mayors, these cities received "provincial status," supposedly because of population growth, making the mayors presidential appointees. Until the 1980s, only the KMT was able to develop a well-founded mass organization for contesting elections, and vote buying, fraud, intimidation, repression, control of the broadcast media, and a host of unfair rules continue to bias electoral outcomes in favor of the ruling party. During the martial law era, opponents of the KMT who won office as independents found that if they became too critical of government policies, they would fall victim to vote fraud, or worse, be subjected to trumped-up legal charges and terms in jail.

Despite these awesome barriers to democracy, the people of Taiwan have continued to struggle for genuine self-government and self determination.