Taiwan’s Best-Case Democratization

Democratization is never easy. The United States, buffered by two oceans and blessed with an abundance of land, resources, and eager citizens, still required a century of trial and error—including a civil war—to consolidate its democracy. States that have been born or converted to democracy since World War II have made faster progress, but many have regressed, as well. A look at the democracy ratings published each year since 1972 by the Washington-based Freedom House think tank reveals a number of countries whose freedom ratings have risen and fallen, in some cases repeatedly. Among these uneven ‘‘third-wave’’ democratizations, Taiwan’s stands out as relatively smooth and successful. Taiwan’s transformation from single-party authoritarianism to multiparty democracy came about with very little violence or bloodshed. Nor did it require wrenching economic or social upheavals. In fact, one might describe Taiwan’s experience as a ‘‘best-case’’ democratization. Paradoxically, Taiwan’s best-case democratization reinforces the claim that lasting democratization is very difficult. For after more than a decade of democratic politics, Taiwan is still struggling to implement effective governance.

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