Like potent forces for liberal change elsewhere, the political opposition on Taiwan faces daunting challenges from an unsettling circumstance: success. In a year, the opposition has goaded the ruling Kuomintang (KMT or Nationalist Party) to enact one of the most rapid and peaceful democratic reforms in modern times.
After decades of suppression, it has made the KMT partially free the press, release hundreds of political prisoners, drop a ban on rival parties, condone travel to mainland China, and end 38 years of martial law.
But with the ruling party concluding its 13th Party Congress yesterday flying the banner for fundamental reform, the opposition can no longer expect the cry for human rights to rally the public. Rather, it must turn to the comparatively mundane task of upholding islanders' diverse interests.
The opposition faces cultural and political obstacles as it moves from the streets to the parliament and concentrates on exercising power rather than fighting for it.
Its growing pains reflect the evolution of Chinese political culture on Taiwan: from a tradition of monopolistic, authoritarian rule to a system of democratic pluralism in which many parties compete for power under constitutional guidelines.
A political ``opposition is a very new concept in Chinese political tradition. It usually connotes revolution, or betrayal, or treason - it has nothing to do with a loyal opposition as in Western countries,'' said Antonio Chiang, a leading Taiwan political pundit.
Therefore, ``the opposition movement in Taiwan is a mixture of the Western loyal opposition and the traditional Chinese concept of the revolutionary party,'' he said.
Fissures within both Taiwan's opposition parties have frustrated the smooth emergence of a loyal opposition. Both the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the Labor Party are split between moderates, who seek to reform the political structure from within, and revolutionaries, who aim to reshape it altogether, political observers say.
While the DPP remains a loose coalition, the Labor Party split recently when its ideologically-inclined chairwoman left to form a new party.
The challenge of the opposition has also abated because it lacks members experienced in governing, policy research, and grass-roots organizing, according to Western and Taiwan observers.
``The opposition has a lot of heros or lonely cowboys who were always shooting for human rights in the past, but when it comes to the policy research that is critical today, they don't care,'' Mr. Chiang said.
Along with obstacles fused by culture and personality, the opposition confronts two longstanding frustrations: the political timidity of Taiwan's middle class and the ruling party's political juggernaut.
``Many people in the middle class support us, they give us money and come to our rallies, but they're unwilling to join our membership because the many years of political repression have left them scared,'' said DPP spokesman Lu Hsiuyi.
Also, the KMT has finely tuned a vote-getting machine reaching from the highest echelons of government to local officialdom.
Nonetheless, the opposition enjoys deep public support. Both parties claim their membership has jumped by at least 10 percent since January, and the DPP predicts that in elections next year it will expand its 13-seat share of the 312-member Legislative Yuan.
And despite the seeming conversion of the KMT to the ideals of liberalism, the opposition still could stir Taiwan natives over several issues. ``We will always stand up against the KMT. When we solve one issue, we will raise another one, there's plenty of ... space for us to fight,'' said Chiou I-ren, DDP deputy secretary-general.
For example, the government still restricts free expression, labeling as sedition advocacy of communism or formal independence from the mainland. Also, most parliamentary seats are reserved for Nationalists, filled by aging mainland refugees who support the ruling party's claim to represent all of China.
DPP and Labor Party spokesmen said they will also rally islanders to build a welfare system, relax controls on visits to the mainland, restrain heavy-handed surveillance of political dissidents by the Taiwan security police, and outlaw intimidation of labor unions.
The causes that drive the opposition also threaten to tear it apart. Labor Party founders split last year from the DPP, denying the larger dissident party an exclusive claim as defender of workers. The breakaway is one sign of the risks facing the DPP as it lures a spectrum of interest groups while trying not to compromise its identity.
The DPP has recently allied with students aiming to use campus newspapers to build an islandwide movement that would challenge strict KMT control over universities. The students have defied a law against such an inter-university student organization and aligned with an association of professors with grievances against the government.
The activism on campus, while not a decisive force of dissent, is of symbolic significance, observers say. Students have been in the thick of many events in China's modern history. On May 20, students roused demonstrators during the final hours of the most violent antigovernment protest here since 1947.