The DPP's Dilemma: Whether to Return to the Centrist Path?
China Times Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, China)
April 28, 2008
Chen Shih-meng openly declared his support for Koo Kuan-min as DPP Chairman. This finally generated a few sparks in a relentlessly dull DPP Party Chairman Election. Chen Shih-meng openly challenged elements within the DPP who advocated the adoption of a more centrist path. Chen maintained that this would never redeem the DPP, and might even lead to everyone abandoning the DPP. Suddenly the struggle over the chairmanship of the DPP, had become a struggle between a "new centrist path" and opposition to a new centrist path. Leave aside for the moment whether this was actually the case. At least the DPP's options were finally on the table.
The current Party Chairman Election is atypical for the DPP. It is the first Party Chairman Election after the DPP's three major electoral defeats. It is one in which the Four Princes of the DPP are conspicuous by their absence. Factional rivalry is also at an all-time low. Not one of the candidates for chairman -- Koo and the two Tsais, belongs to the party's central power structure. Perhaps this is why the confrontation between the three, and the process by which the victor will emerge, are assuming forms unprecedented for the DPP.
The media has been comparing Koo and the two Tsais. Trong Tsai is viewed as a machine politician who depends upon the top down mobilization of party members and manipulation of party factions. Koo Kuan-min is viewed as the voice of Deep Green fundamentalism. Tsai Ying-wen is viewed as a centrist reformer. Each of the candidates represents one aspect of what the DPP stands for. Machine voters and factional voters have long been a problem for DPP party members and grass roots supporters. The ideological differences between Deep Green and Pale Green factions have long been part of the DPP's ideological spectrum. The DPP's post election reform, just so happens to touch upon these differences. And by sheer coincidence, each faction just happens to have a spokesman.
As a party that has suffered repeated defeats, DPP leaders are wracked with anxiety. In this, they are no different from other defeated parties in democratic nations. The DPP's anxiety takes two forms. One ascribes the party's defeat to problems with the current path. It calls for thoroughgoing path change. The other is just the opposite. It claims the party has been losing elections because it failed to adhere to its current path, therefore must increase its commitment to its current path. Many advocates of reform within the Democratic Progressive Party will be pinning their hopes on Tsai Ing-wen. They represent the first group. Chen Shih-meng has nominated Koo Kuan-min, and is openly blasting the "centrist path." They represent the second group. The different forms their anxieties take reflect the differences in their political paths.
The DPP's current plight can, to some extent, be compared to the former plight of the British Labor Party. Under the impact of Conservative Party Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's "Thatcher Revolution," the Labor Party experienced repeated setbacks. It also underwent internal struggles over the party's political path. The Labor Party's nomination process at the time used a form of "intra-party democracy." This meant party hardliners who were adept at mobilization gained the upper hand, from beginning to end. But the candidates fielded by these Labour Party fundamentalists were consistently defeated in national elections by the Conservative Party. The result was a decade in the political wilderness. Only when Tony Blair adopted a "Third Way" did the Labour Party return to political office. The story of the British Labor Party provides an object lesson for the still wavering DPP.
Perhaps it was because the three candidates for party chairman just happened to represent different faces of the DPP. Therefore whoever prevails will reflect DPP members' expectations about what kind of political party they wish to become. Whether they wish to remain mired in the swamp of machine politics and party factions, unable to extricate themselves. Whether the DPP should become a Deep Green political party. Whether the DPP should proceed down a new, broader, "centrist path." Put simply, the results of the party chairman election will decide whether the DPP will be a party that represents only party members, or a party that represents all people on Taiwan.
Because of this, we are happy to see Chen Shih-meng put the Centrist Path controversy on the bargaining table. At least this will allow the DPP to focus on the reasons for its defeat. After all, to argue about the extent of Chen Shui-bian's responsibility is a waste of valuable time and energy. So is arguing about the merits of the Blues Excluded clause. Should the DPP change its current party platform? What course of action meets with the expectations of the 5 million voters who cast their ballots for Hsieh? Perhaps those are the most serious issues facing the DPP.