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Legislative Elections and Taiwan’s Indigenous Peoples: Democracy and the Future

"08.01 總統代表政府向原住民族道歉" by Taiwan Presidential Office is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

May 27, 2024

Do you know that – in Taiwan’s election for the Legislative Yuan, the votes of Indigenous Peoples are separate from those of other Taiwanese citizens? 

Taiwan has designated electoral districts and legislative seats for Indigenous Peoples. According to the Public Officials Election and Recall Act, Indigenous individuals with suffrage rights and meeting the specified qualifications are eligible to vote for Indigenous public officials. The Act also outlines how legislative districts are divided, specifying separate districts for Indigenous peoples in plain and mountain areas.

Such provisions result in indigenous voters being solely able to vote in legislative elections in indigenous districts. Moreover, they are further restricted by being subdivided into plain and mountainous indigenous voting districts. The issue lies in the fact that this division is a continuation of the classification system used by the Japanese colonial regime as reinstated by the  Kuomintang government. Given the current distribution and composition of Taiwan’s Indigenous population, whether such a division still holds relevance is debatable. Population distribution and traditions may be influenced by job opportunities, leading to migration to urban areas, or by the presence of second and third-generations who were born and raised in urban areas.

This study begins by exploring transitional justice through the lens of the researcher’s experiences as a member of the Pangcah/Amis (a mei zu) people. My research investigates transitional justice as practiced by Taiwan Indigenous peoples against assimilation policies stemming from Taiwan’s colonial past. It sheds light on the ongoing significant threats to democracy and society in Taiwan. I have just begun this research project, so this article briefly introduces my research direction and preliminary findings. The goal is to develop this into a journal article after further research through interviews and fieldwork. It is not the main focus of my doctoral dissertation but rather a question I aim to clarify from my own positionality. Elections and democracy are crucial developments in Taiwan, and the voices of Indigenous peoples cannot be overlooked. 

The 2024 elections in Taiwan marked significant milestones in the island’s democratic history,  with the eighth direct presidential election and the 11th election for the Legislative Yuan held in  January this year. Nearly 72 percent of registered voters participated, amounting to approximately 13.7 million out of 19.5 million eligible voters. This turnout underscored a solid commitment to democracy as citizens exercised their right to elect leaders and representatives.  Despite the bustling debates surrounding the elections, the voices of Taiwan’s Indigenous Peoples often go unheard.  Observers note that Indigenous Peoples struggle to find platforms to express their views,  particularly on cross-strait politics and national identity.  

Media is a pivotal battleground during elections. Yet, the launch of Taiwan Indigenous Television  (Yuauzhuminzu Dianshitai; 原住民族電視台) and the FM96.3 Alian Radio (原住民族廣播電台) tend to focus on developing Indigenous languages and cultures, not politics. Compared to the thriving political talk shows targeted at Han voters, the Indigenous elections in Taiwan only represented a small portion of media coverage.  

If television and radio are not the primary battlegrounds for Indigenous peoples, then what about  Facebook, Line, and even TikTok? Within these social media platforms, the manipulation of information may easily influence the elections. For the elections of the Han people, fake news,  misinformation, disinformation, or manipulated images generated using artificial intelligence (AI)  circulate on social media platforms with various political biases, attempting to influence voters and shape public perceptions of candidates. Cyber, information, cognitive, and hybrid warfare along with narrative framing and propaganda are hot topics for the Han people’s election in Taiwan. Yet, based on the preliminary qualitative research on interviews of the  Indigenous candidates and citizens who are concerned about Indigenous politics,  the strategies that influence Indigenous voters may differ from those of the Han people. One reason for this difference may stem from the subdivided electoral system stipulated by the Public Officials Election and Recall Act.  

This law aims to ensure Indigenous representation in politics and provide them with a platform to express their perspectives and needs on specific issues and affairs. However, has this goal been achieved? Changing the electoral system for Indigenous voters from one where they are restricted to voting for Indigenous candidates in specific areas to a system similar to general elections for other Taiwanese citizens and legislators might better reflect the contemporary demographic composition and mobility of Indigenous peoples in Taiwan while moving away from colonial legacies. Implementing such changes requires further dialogue between legislative and administrative bodies with Indigenous communities to devise relevant measures and detailed plans. Yet, only through the beginning of this dialogue does Taiwan’s democratic progress move forward together, not separately.