The Aborigine Constituencies in the Taiwanese Legislature

The Republic of China on Taiwan has long reserved legislative seats for its indigenous minority, the yuanzhumin. While most of Taiwan’s political institutions were transformed as the island democratized, the dual aborigine constituencies continue to be based on an archaic, Japanese-era distinction between “mountain” and “plains” aborigines that corresponds poorly to current conditions. The aborigine quota system has also served to buttress Kuomintang (KMT) control of the legislature: the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and “pan-indigenous” parties have been almost entirely shut out of these seats. Nevertheless, aborigine legislators have made a modest but meaningful difference for indigenous communities. The reserved seats were initially established during the martial law era as a purely symbolic form of representation, but during the democratic era they have acquired substantive force as well. Taiwan’s indigenous peoples have not always been well-served by their elected legislators, but they would be worse off without them.