Russell Hsiao is the executive director of the Global Taiwan Institute and the editor-in-chief of the Global Taiwan Brief.
On July 17, Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP, 民進黨) held its annual National Party Congress and announced the results of its biennial election for its 30-member Central Executive Committee (CEC, 中執委), which in turn selects the powerful 10-member Central Standing Committee (CSC, 中常委). The composition of these two bodies and still more importantly, the factional affiliation of its members, are a reflection of the influence of the various political cliques that have competed for power and influence within the party since its inception. While the confab was presented as an opportunity to mobilize party support and readiness for the DPP’s campaign for the local elections this November, the more interesting and significant development came from the internal party elections of its executive bodies.
To be sure, the overall balance of power between the factions does not appear to have changed with the recent election, but the entry of two strong supporters of Vice President William Lai (賴清德) into the CSC are notable in that it should make it less challenging for him to run in the party’s upcoming presidential primary in early-to-mid 2023. Indeed, it is noteworthy that Chen Shi-kai (陳世凱) and Lin Chun-hsien (林俊憲)—close associates and supporters of the current vice president—were elected to the CSC. Although local elections are only a few months away, the 2024 presidential election is around the corner, and the placement of Lai’s loyalists in the CSC will reduce the likelihood of challenges, procedural or otherwise, to the current vice president as whispers increasingly point to him being the likely presidential candidate for the DPP in 2024.
The Role of the CEC and CSC
The members of the CEC are elected by the DPP National Party Congress and serve for 2-year terms. The 10 members of the CSC are selected by the CEC. This means that the current members of the three committees will be in their positions through the next presidential and legislative elections slated for early 2024.
The composition of power in the CEC generally serves as a reflection of the overall power balance within the DPP. According to Taiwan expert Shelley Rigger: “The most important factor in the selection of Central Executive Committee and Central Standing Committee members is the balance of power among party factions, because gaining representation on these committees determines how far a faction will be able to advance its members’ careers.” These factions are perhaps even more important in determining the relative levels of influence among the local party headquarters throughout the country.
The CEC and the CSC are also the primary coordination mechanisms within the DPP in the nomination process for the party’s primary candidates for president, directly elected national legislators, as well as other political offices at the local levels. While the DPP’s presidential primary is technically an open process wherein candidates (party members) who would like to run for president can register as long as they meet the party’s rules and qualifications for eligibility, negotiations between the factions likely occur within the CEC and CSC to determine if there is a unity candidate. If negotiations fail in reaching a consensus around a unified ticket, the party conducts a series of national opinion polls to determine the party’s candidate. The CEC and CSC also play an instrumental role in setting and modifying the rules for the primaries when necessary. A notable example of this function took place during the 2019 DPP presidential primary, resulting in considerable controversy. The move to place loyalists to the vice president in the CSC may be intended to ensure that such complications do not occur in the future.
Factions have existed as a core organizational component of DPP internal politics since the party’s formation in 1986. While the various factions were initially united in opposing the Kuomintang’s (KMT, 國民黨) one-party rule, by the late 1990s, they became less driven by their shared anti-KMT sentiment. While early factions were primarily associated with particular social and political movements and were often quite dissimilar in their ideological bent, DPP factions now are less focused on ideologies and are more personality-driven. As Courtney Donovan Smith, a political commentator based in Taipei, observed: “Unlike their more ideological forebears, today’s factions appear to be more about gaining power, gaining key party and government appointments, and furthering their interests. Unlike the KMT’s local patronage factions, […] the DPP’s factions operate nationally.”
Although factional infighting is a feature in all political parties, the competition between the groups escalated starting in 2000 following the party’s first presidential election victory. In time, this infighting descended into tribalism. Once the DPP assumed control of the central government, the various factions fought tooth and nail for both policy turf and political positions. Yet, DPP control during this period was only marginal, as the government bureaucracy continued to be dominated by bureaucrats appointed during decades of rule by the former ruling party.
DPP members, organized in their respective factions, felt that they themselves had duly earned the right to govern by deposing the KMT, which led to internecine squabbling that threatened to splinter the party. Consequently, the party moved to dissolve its factions in 2006. Yet, by 2010—as the DPP struggled to regain relevance as the KMT strengthened its grip on political power—factions remerged and coalesced around key DPP members like Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chun (陳菊), Frank Hsieh (謝長廷), and William Lai. Despite Tsai Ing-wen and other heavyweight party elders’ perceived associations with certain factions, they have largely avoided directly confirming any kind of affiliation. When speaking on the topic to a supposed member of her faction, President Tsai reportedly noted: “In the future, can you please stop telling everyone you’re called the Ing Faction? When you do things, you never let me know in advance.”
In the most recent party election, President Tsai managed to keep appointments to the CEC fairly balanced between the factions. Currently, the New Tide Faction (新潮流) holds the most seats in the CEC with 30 percent (nine); with TNCPA (正常國家促進會) and the Ing Faction (英系) each holding 20 percent (six each), while the Taiwan Forward/Ocean Faction (湧言會/海派), Su Faction (蘇系), and the Green Fellowship Association (綠色友誼連線) each command 10 percent (three each). This distribution of power among the factions is also proportionally reflected in the CSC: New Tide Faction with three seats, Ing Faction with two seats, TNCPA with two seats, while the Su, Green Fellowship, and Taiwan Forward Factions each with one seat. Throughout President Tsai’s tenure, the share of appointments between these factions has remained fairly consistent and the distribution of power between the factions has remained largely unchanged. 
The Road to 2020 and 2024?
In contrast to the factional infighting that spilled out into the open in the 2000s, internal disputes between the factions have been kept carefully managed in recent years. Even during William Lai’s primary challenge for the DPP presidential bid in 2019—which came as a surprise to even some of the most seasoned Taiwan watchers—the New Tide Faction (with which both he and Tsai are seen to be associated) remained mostly stable. Although their respective supporters sparred openly and vigorously, the candidates themselves avoided direct conflict with one another. This may be a reflection of the cohesion and strength of this faction.
Disputes between the factions have also apparently lessened or become less visible than in the 2000s. This may in part be attributed to the leadership of President Tsai as chair of the DPP and her ability to carefully manage the balance of power between the factions. Tsai has served as chair of the DPP since 2020, a position she previously held from 2008 to 2012, and 2014 to 2018 (she stepped down in 2018 to take responsibility for the party’s defeat in the 2018 local elections). As noted by Smith: “Tsai Ing-wen brought the factions under control by enforcing a status quo on their relative power. This was done by carefully apportioning out party and political appointments according to roughly the approximate strength and power of each faction, and then maintaining that.”
While commenting on the implications of the recently held DPP National Party Congress, Professor Wang Yeh-lih (王業立) of National Taiwan University also noted: “The most important thing is that it will affect the nomination of the president and the country’s legislators in 2024. This is especially true for William Lai who is ambitious about a presidential run in 2024. In the last nomination process in 2019, William Lai lacked enough party support and struggled in the primary. So for the future presidential landscape, the election of central committee members can be said to be quite important.” “They [the factions] are becoming more and more organized and clearer like [those in] Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party,” Wang added.
At this point, there does not appear to be a clear challenger with the necessary factional support to seriously challenge Lai for the party’s nomination. Also, the DPP would prefer to avoid if possible a bruising primary contest and present a united front for what will be an uphill 2024. The election of Lai’s loyalists into the CSC will minimize the likelihood that there could be a repeat of the 2019 primary process. The only other potential challenger may actually come from within his own faction in the form of Taoyuan City Mayor Cheng Wen-tsan (鄭文燦). Yet, any substantial disagreements will likely be worked out within the faction. The election of Lai’s supporters into the CEC—and especially the CSC—at the recently held DPP National Party Congress shows that support within the party for Lai as the 2024 candidate may be slowly coalescing.
The main point: While the overall balance of power between the factions within the DPP does not appear to have changed with the recent Central Executive Committee elections, the entry of supporters of the vice president into the Central Standing Committee is notable in that it should make it less challenging for him to run as the party’s presidential candidate in 2024.
 For a description of the various DPP factions, see, e.g., Courtney Donovan Smith, “The who and what on the DPP factions vying to shape Taiwan’s future,” Taiwan News, July 25, 2022,
(The author would like to thank Alayna Bone and Meghan Shoop for their research assistance.)