As we have seen, postcolonial Taipei was soon dominated by the Nationalist or Kuomingtang (KMT) regime brought over from the Chinese mainland.
The structure of the KMT had been established by its founder, Sun Yat-sen, in 1924.
Sun’s objective was to create a power behind the state which would implement what he called Three Principles of the People — nationalism, democracy, and the people’s livelihood (a moderate form of state capitalism).
As a Leninist Party, the KMT boasted a significant organizational capacity, a dominant ideology, and a deep penetration of society.
The Nationalists ruled Taipei’s politics for over 40 years due, in part, to the fact that Taiwan had little legacy of democracy.
Institutional diffusion during the colonial era came from an authoritarian, imperial Japan, rather than from a democratic Western power . . . . Taiwan was decolonized through a wholesale transfer of power and resources from a defeated colonial power to the KMT regime: this process took place without any political struggle . . . . postwar Taiwan did not inherit any democratic infrastructures.
Party organs controlled administrative units at various levels of government. They also controlled the military via a commissar system with “a hierarchy of political officers running parallel to the ordinary military hierarchy.”
Almost all senior military officers were also party members and many held high party office.
The KMT used mass organizations to mobilize support from large segments of the population and party cadres served as revolutionary vanguards.
Party cells penetrated the existing social organizations.
Unlike Leninist parties elsewhere, the KMT advocated democracy via tutelage instead of promoting the principle of proletarian dictatorship or the monopoly of power by a communist party.
The party was seen as a “charismatic party with a niche in politics because of its leadership in the national revolution.”
This meant that it was “to shoulder the self-imposed historical mission of retaking mainland China and completing national construction.”
While national elections were suspended, the KMT did permit political participation at the local level.
This was important for it allowed Taipei to put on a democratic face, a stance which justified its membership in the Western political camp.
Nevertheless, all aspects of local elections were tightly controlled so as to contain the growth of political opposition which was regarded as a divisive force harmful to the national task of retaking mainland China.
On the other hand, even though the elections were a mechanism for the KMT to co-opt local elites, the subnational elections were also “competitive, real, and local interest-based, totally unlike those of a Leninist regime.”
The KMT regime distinguished itself from other Leninist entitities because it was embedded in a capitalist economy in which private ownership and market exchange were the norm.
The principle of “people’s livelihood” defended economic equality but did not specify a preferred means of attaining it.
The rationale was used to justify the maintenance of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) as a safeguard against the private sector.
Many of these enterprises concentrated on major infrastructure projects which were valued in terms of both their economic benefit and their impact on military preparedness.