The legacy of the Sunflower Movement: Taiwan’s emerging three-party politics

Image from Miao Poya's Facebook. Used with permission.

The presidential and parliamentary elections in Taiwan on January 13, 2024, ended with the pro-Taiwan autonomy Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) winning the presidential election. However, it only obtained 46 percent of the seats in the parliament and failed to retain its legislative majority. On the other hand, the Kuomintang (KMT) won 47 percent, and the emerging People's Party of Taiwan (PPT) won up to 7 percent of the parliamentary seats.

The rise of the so-called third party (i.e., political parties other than the longstanding DPP and KMT) has been one of the main focuses of political observers in this election.

Within the emerging sector, the New Power Party (NPP), the Social Democratic Party (SDP), and the Taiwan Statebuilding Party, founded in 2015, riding on the momentum of the 2014 Sunflower Movement – a movement against the passing of the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement (CSSTA) with mainland China, failed to win any parliamentary seats in this election. Yet, the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP), which was founded in 2019 by Ko Wen-je, who ran for Taipei mayor after the Sunflower Movement with DPP’s blessing, became a key political party in shaping parliamentary decisions upon winning eight seats.

Read more: A snapshot of Taiwan's Sunflower movement ten years later

Ifan and Filip Noubel from Global Voices interview politician Miao Poya (苗博雅) in person in Mandarin on her view on Taiwan's post-election politics. Miao is a human rights activist, a member of the Social Democratic Party, and a Taipei City Councilor who ran for Taipei City Daan District Legislator this time but lost to Luo Zhiqiang, a member of the KMT. She is also one of the few openly lesbian politicians in a country that is not always warm toward LGBTQ+ people. She and other so-called “Sunflower Generation candidates” had joined the “Democratic Alliance” organized by the DPP during the elections to mark their ideological distinction from the pro-China KMT and TPP.

GV: Many people believe that the Sunflower Generation was completely wiped out in this election. Can you comment on that?




Miao: It depends on how we define the “Sunflower Generation.” For example, the candidates put forward by the NPP in this election were not that involved in the Sunflower Movement.

The “Sunflower Generation” should not be limited to political figures but people (aged 20–39 in 2014 and 30–49 in 2024) who went through the 2014 March 18 student movement (the Sunflower movement started with the occupation of the Legislative Yuan on March 18 2014). This group of voters is still more inclined to support the localist political parties in this election.

The issue at stake is that there is no unifying force in Taiwan that represents the values generated by the Sunflower Movement, so this group of people can only vote for the DPP and the newly emerged TPP.

GV: In this election, third-party presidential candidate Ko Wen-je almost gained as many votes as the KMT’s candidate Hou Youyi. His TPP also obtained eight seats in the legislature. How do you explain this result?


Miao: In this presidential election, Ko obtained 26 percent of the votes. We believe half are his loyal fans, while the other half are those dissatisfied with the existing options (both KMT and DPP). Originally, Ko promised to work with Hou to run for president and vice president, but the deal broke down, and eventually, the two parties did not integrate their supporters. Ko managed to keep his supporters’ votes.

GV: Can you comment on the development of a third political power in Taiwan, given the result of the legislative elections?




Miao: Taiwan's current two-party system is a result of its election system. That means the coexistence of three major political parties in Taiwan is against political scientists’ understanding of this election system and  amending Taiwan's constitution isn't that easy.

Under such context, the emergence of a third party here does not mean that there are three major political parties co-existing at the same time but that the third party will marginalize KMT (replacing KMT and becoming a major party). Our hope is that both major political parties will defend Taiwan’s autonomy, and their policy platforms can focus on people’s agenda. 

At present, the so-called third party in Taiwan will likely integrate with the other two political parties.  For example, in the current congress, the TPP have become an ally of the KMT, as their eight representatives usually follow KMT’s lead when they cast their votes.

GV: You are considered a tech-savvy politician, particularly when it comes to utilizing new media. During the election campaign, you not only pedaled around the constituency to interact with voters but also launched a 24-hour live webcast. What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of politicians using online media to communicate with the public?



Miao: Nowadays, using social media to communicate with the public is a must, regardless of its advantages and disadvantages. 

We used to say that politicians should often go to parks, temples, and food markets (as there are crowds), but nowadays, voters under 50 spend a lot of time on social media. Social media platforms are thus essential for politicians to connect with the public.

GV: However, politicians tend to whip up topics on social media to catch public attention.



Miao: I don’t see online popularity as very important. It is about communicating with your target audience to let them know who you are and what you want to do.

I chose a webcast because, with the resources I had at my disposal, a sincere and direct approach was the easiest way to reach out to voters. Well-scripted speeches in front of two or three cameras and post-production editing require more resources and are not necessarily appealing to voters.  

GV: What is your blueprint for your political path in the future?

苗:現在我的工作是台北市議員,所以我要先把這個工作做好,專心在台北市的市政上。[…] 這次選舉當中,我認為我提出的政見絕對比我的對手好,但對方拒絕討論政策,因為對他來說,只要站穩自己的意識形態,就可以贏得選舉結果選舉結果的確也回到了基本盤。但我認為這樣(國民黨候選人)的選舉方式在將來的某一天一定會失效,因為選民結構會一直改變。

Miao: Currently, I am a Taipei City Councilor. I have to perform my duty well and concentrate on the municipal affairs of Taipei City. […] In this election, I think my policy platform was definitely better than my opponent's. However, my opponent refused to discuss issues related to policies because to him, he could win this election by aligning with KMT’s ideology. His strategy works because there are many hardcore KMT supporters in this district. However, such an election strategy (for KMT candidates) will definitely be ineffective some days in the future because the composition of voters keeps changing.

GV: How do you see the Taiwan government handling Hong Kong affairs?




Miao: Taiwan has to find a way to help Hongkongers in our negotiations with the U.S. and China. At the same time, Taiwan's established civil service system does not have a good understanding of the world system and human rights norms. Therefore, in recent years, people have thought that the Taiwan government is too slow in responding to change. However, the key point to me is whether or not there is a willingness to move in this direction.

In my decade-long political career, I have come across many similar situations.  For example, it had been very difficult for Tibetans to obtain a residential permit in Taiwan. Eventually, the authorities had to handle their application on a case-by-case basis (through unofficial channels), and the criteria were not clear. However, we managed to help a group of Tibetans. After many years, these Tibetans have finally settled down in Taiwan thanks to many people’s help and support.

Taiwan used to have a system for dealing with Hong Kong affairs. But at the moment there is no institutionalized channel to deal with Hongkongers’ legal identity in Taiwan as the condition in Hong Kong has changed. I don't think the current Taiwanese government is unwilling to do so. Still, it has to consider whether granting political asylum to Hong Kong people will add another variable to the already limited space available for maneuvering with China.

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