What’s the government of Taiwan like?
Taiwan’s government is divided into five branches, or Yuans 院 (literally “house” or “court”), in addition to the Office of the President 總統府. According to the Constitution of the Republic of China 中華民國憲法 that went into effect in 1947, the central government of the ROC is to consist of the National Assembly 人民大會, Executive Yuan 行政院, Legislative Yuan 立法院, Judicial Yuan 司法院, Examination Yuan 考試院, and Control Yuan 監察院. Taiwan’s government is considered to be a semi-presidential system.
The National Assembly 國民大會 (now defunct)
The National Assembly was once the highest authority in the ROC Government according to the Constitution in 1947, exercising power as both a constitutional convention and electoral college. Its members had the power to elect and impeach the President and Vice President of the ROC, amend the Constitution, and vote on proposed Constitutional amendments submitted by the Legislative Yuan by way of referendum. However, these power were gradually transferred to the Legislative Yuan in the 1980s and 1990s. Constitutional amendments made it a dormant body in 2000 and fully defunct in 2005.
The Presidency 總統
The President of the ROC is directly elected together with a Vice President by the population (more specifically citizens over 20 years of age) of the free area of the ROC* and is the head of state and commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces. The President represents the nation in foreign relations and at state functions, and may conclude international agreements. The President may hold office for no more than two consecutive four-year terms (the next election will be held in 2020). The President also has the power to appoint and remove top civic and military officials; promulgate laws; dissolve the Legislative in the event it dismisses the premier through a vote of no confidence; help resolve disputes between branches of the government; and issue emergency decrees in response to national security threats and other crises. The President appoints the premier but does not exercise direct administrative authority over the executive branch, but the President does lay out guidelines for policy-making.
The incumbent President of the ROC is Dr. Tsai Ing-wen 蔡英文 (fourth to be directly elected and first female to hold office), who, along with Vice President Dr. Chen Chien-jen 陳建仁, was elected on January 16, 2016 and took the oath of office on May 20, 2016.
*ROC has complicated territorial claims that no longer fit the international norm. Related election laws thus state the islands of Taiwan 臺灣, the Penghu islands 澎湖, Kinmen 金門, and Matsu 馬祖 as the free area of the ROC, and the population in which shall elect the President.
The Executive Yuan 行政院
The Executive Yuan is the executive branch of the ROC Government, headed by a Premier 行政院長 appointed by the President. The Executive Yuan Council, or Cabinet, consists of vice premier and ministers, are appointed by the President on recommendation of the premier. The premier supervises organs of the Executive Yuan, explains administrative policies, and reports to the Legislative Yuan.
Currently there are 12 ministries (Culture 文化部, Economic Affairs 經濟部, Education 教育部, Finance 財政部, Foreign Affairs 外交部, Health & Welfare 衛生福利部, Justice 法務部, Labor 勞動部, National Defense 國防部, Interior 內政部, Science & Technology 科技部, and Transportation & Communications 交通部) and 26 other cabinet-level agencies under the Executive Yuan. However, a government-restructure bill was passed in 2010 to reorganize the Executive Yuan into 14 ministries (adding on Agriculture 農業部 and Environmental and Natural Resources 環境資源部), 8 councils, 3 independent agencies, the central bank, National Palace Museum, and 2 additional administrations.
The Legislative Yuan 立法院
The Legislative Yuan is ROC’s sole law-making body (similar to parliament/congress in other states). It composes of 113 legislators 立法委員, 73 elected from 73 single-member constituencies, 6 elected by indigenous voters from 2 three-member constituencies (plain and high mountain indigenous peoples), and 34 legislators-at-large filled from party lists (seats are distributed to political parties receiving at least 5% of all votes according to the proportion of votes a particular party receives). The Constitution and relevant election laws require at least 50% of legislators-at-large to be female. Legislators serve four-year terms and could be re-elected indefinitely. The President of the Legislative Yuan (or Speaker of the Legislature) 立法院長 is one elected from their ranks by the legislators, and is responsible for coordinating operation of the Legislature. Legislators are assigned to committees with specific jurisdictions.
The Legislative Yuan is responsible for general law-making; hearing government officials’ testimonies; reviewing budgets; confirming presidential nominations for top government posts; initiating proposals to amend the Constitution; help settle disputes in local governments; initiate no-confidence vote against the premier; review and confirm emergency decrees issued by the ROC President; and impeach the ROC President or Vice President.
The Judicial Yuan 司法院
The Judicial Yuan oversees the nation’s court system operation. The Justices of the Constitutional Court 司法院大法官 hold the power to interpret the Constitution and to unify laws and orders. The Court composed of 15 Justices, including the President and Vice President of the Judicial Yuan, are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Legislative Yuan. They serve staggered terms of eight years and may not serve a second term consecutively.
Taiwan’s court system includes district courts, high courts, and a Supreme Court that hear civic and criminal cases, while high administrative courts and a Supreme Administrative Court hear cases on party/parties who seek remedies to violation of laws committed by the government. Judges in the ROC are not elected or appointed but have to go through examination and intensive training held by the Judicial Yuan. The Judicial Yuan also decides disciplinary actions against governmental employees censured or impeached by the Control Yuan for malfeasance or charged for violating civic or criminal laws.
The Examination Yuan 考試院
The Examination Yuan is responsible for administering the nation’s civil service system. It is in charge of matters relating to examination, employment, registration, service rating, scale of salaries, promotion and transfer, security of tenure, commendation, pecuniary aid in case of death, retirement and old age pension. Under the Examination Yuan are Ministry of Examination 考選部, Ministry of Civil Service 銓敘部, Civil Service Protection and Training Commission 公務人員保障暨培訓委員會 (保訓會), and the Public Service Pension Fund Supervisory Board 公務人員退休撫卹基金監理委員會.
The Examination Yuan Council, composed of the President and Vice President of the Examination Yuan, 19 Ministers without Portfolio 考試委員, Minister of Examination 考選部部長, Minister of Civil Service 銓敘部部長, and the Chairperson of the Civil Service Protection and Training Commission 保訓會主任委員 are responsible for the Yuan’s operation. Ministers without Portfolio are appointed for six-year terms (could be reappointed) by the ROC President and confirmed by the Legislative Yuan.
The Control Yuan 監察院
The Control Yuan is the highest watchdog body that exercise the powers of consent, impeachment, censure and auditing. It is comprised of 29 members 監察委員, including a President and Vice President, and the National Audit Office (or Ministry of Audit) 審計部. All members and the head of the National Audit Office, the Auditor General, are appointed for renewable six-year terms by the ROC President and confirmed by the Legislative Yuan.
The Control Yuan Council is mandated to investigate complaints of malfeasance or even criminal acts committed by public servants or agencies and to censure or impeach them. It also monitor the propriety of governmental expenditures. It may vote to propose corrective measures and demand progress reports, or issues censures or impeachments (to everyone other than the President and Vice President of the ROC) in cases of serious infractions.