The History of Taiwan Presidency
The history of the presidency in Taiwan is closely tied to the island’s complex political developments over the years. Taiwan has undergone significant changes in its political system and governance since the end of World War II. Here’s a detailed overview of the Taiwan presidency:
Japanese Colonial Era (1895 until 1945)
Taiwan was under Japanese colonial rule from 1895 until the end of World War II in 1945. During this period, there was no presidential system in place, as Taiwan was governed as a colony by the Empire of Japan. Japan implemented various policies to modernize the island’s infrastructure and economy.
Republic of China (ROC) Rule (1945 until 1949)
After Japan’s surrender in 1945, Taiwan was returned to Chinese sovereignty, and the Republic of China (ROC) government, led by Chiang Kai-shek, took control of the island. The ROC was established in 1912 on the Chinese mainland, following the end of the Qing Dynasty. In 1947, Taiwan held its first local elections, but direct presidential elections were not yet implemented.
Martial Law Era (1949 until 1987)
In 1949, the Chinese Civil War ended with the defeat of the ROC forces by the Chinese Communist Party, led by Mao Zedong. The ROC government relocated to Taiwan, and Chiang Kai-shek continued to lead the country. However, the ROC’s control was limited to Taiwan and a few other islands, while the People’s Republic of China (PRC) was established on the mainland.
In Taiwan, Chiang Kai-shek declared martial law in 1949, which lasted until 1987. During this period, Taiwan was effectively ruled as an authoritarian state, with the president exercising significant power. Chiang Kai-shek served as the President of the ROC until his death in 1975. He was succeeded by his son, Chiang Ching-kuo.
Democratization (1987 until 1996)
Chiang Ching-kuo initiated political reforms, and in 1987, he lifted martial law, allowing for the legalization of opposition political parties. This marked the beginning of Taiwan’s transition to democracy. In 1991, the ROC government amended the constitution, abolishing the National Assembly’s lifetime tenure system and introducing the popular election of the president and vice president.
In 1996, Taiwan held its first direct presidential election, and Lee Teng-hui became the first president to be elected by popular vote. He was also the first native Taiwanese to hold the position. Lee Teng-hui’s presidency was significant in Taiwan’s democratic development, but it was not without controversy, as he faced criticism from both the pro-independence and pro-unification camps.
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Ascendancy (2000 until present)
The year 2000 marked a major turning point in Taiwan’s political landscape when Chen Shui-bian, from the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), won the presidential election. Chen’s victory ended more than five decades of Kuomintang (KMT) rule on the island. He was re-elected for a second term in 2004.
In 2008, Ma Ying-jeou of the Kuomintang party was elected president. During his tenure, Ma pursued policies aimed at improving cross-strait relations with mainland China, leading to a period of reduced tensions.
In 2016, Tsai Ing-wen, also from the DPP, was elected president, becoming the first woman to hold the office in Taiwan’s history. Her presidency marked a return to DPP leadership and brought renewed attention to Taiwan’s sovereignty and international status.
In the most recent presidential election held in January 2020, Tsai Ing-wen was re-elected for a second term, securing a significant victory for the DPP.
Here is a list of the Presidents of Taiwan in detail:
Chiang Kai-shek (蔣中正) – May 20, 1948, to April 5, 1975
Chiang Kai-shek was the leader of the Kuomintang (KMT) and the founding father of the Republic of China (ROC). He became the President of the ROC in 1948 and led the government during its relocation to Taiwan after the Chinese Civil War. Chiang served as the President until his death in 1975.
Yen Chia-kan (嚴家淦) – April 5, 1975, to January 20, 1978
Yen Chia-kan, also known as C.K. Yen, was the Vice President of the ROC under Chiang Kai-shek. Upon Chiang’s death, Yen succeeded him as President. His presidency focused on stabilizing Taiwan’s political landscape and continuing the economic development initiated during Chiang’s rule.
Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) – January 20, 1978, to January 13, 1988
Chiang Ching-kuo, the son of Chiang Kai-shek, served as the Premier of the ROC before becoming President. He continued his father’s authoritarian rule but also introduced gradual political reforms that laid the groundwork for Taiwan’s eventual democratization.
Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) – January 13, 1988, to May 20, 2000
Lee Teng-hui, a native Taiwanese, was the first president to be born in Taiwan. He became the President of the ROC after the death of Chiang Ching-kuo in 1988. Lee’s presidency was characterized by further democratization and the lifting of martial law. He won Taiwan’s first direct presidential election in 1996.
Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) – May 20, 2000, to May 20, 2008
Chen Shui-bian, a member of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), succeeded Lee Teng-hui as President. He was the first non-KMT president and the first DPP president of Taiwan. Chen’s presidency was marked by both domestic and international challenges, and he focused on promoting Taiwan’s identity and seeking a distinct international status.
Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) – May 20, 2008, to May 20, 2016
Ma Ying-jeou, from the Kuomintang (KMT) party, won the presidential election in 2008 and was re-elected for a second term in 2012. His presidency emphasized improving cross-strait relations with mainland China through economic and cultural exchanges. Ma’s policies led to a period of reduced tensions across the Taiwan Strait.
Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) – May 20, 2016, to present (as of September 2021)
Tsai Ing-wen, also a member of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), won the presidential election in 2016, becoming the first woman to hold the office in Taiwan’s history. She was re-elected for a second term in 2020. Tsai’s presidency has been marked by a stronger emphasis on Taiwan’s sovereignty and international status, especially in the face of increased pressure from mainland China.