Tsai Ing-wen's Challenge: Restoring DPP Morale
China Times Editorial (Taipei, China)
May 19, 2008
Not surprisingly, Tsai Ing-wen led, all the way. A clear majority of DPP members handed the future of the DPP over to Tsai Ing-wen. This is the first time the DPP has ever elected a female chairperson. Tsai Ing-wen has no experience at running party affairs. She has no campaign experience. Over the next few years, the DPP must pick itself up after a long string of defeats. This will be a difficult ordeal for both Tsai Ing-wen and the DPP.
This DPP party chairman election was highly unorthodox. The Princes of the Party did not have a showdown. Factional leaders did not engage in infighting. The new generation of Young Turks did not make waves. In the end only Koo and Tsai were left standing. These two have never been close to the power center of the DPP. They are not your usual DPP politicians. Koo Kuan-min is an older generation aristocrat and Taiwan independence hardliner. Tsai Ing-wen is a think tank academic, with some degree of expertise in policy planning. The two candidates neatly symbolize the DPP's options for its future. Namely, will the DPP cling to the Deep Green path, or take a more inclusive, more pragmatic path?
As it turns out, the DPP has chosen the latter. Tsai support crossed factional lines. Despite conflict between the Chen, Hsieh, and New Tide factions, they unanimously supported Tsai Ing-wen. This means that both the DPP elite and grass-roots are aware that notwithstanding Koo Kuan-min's credentials as Deep Green champion of Taiwan independence, the Tsai Ing-wen path is the one the DPP must take in order to have a political future.
The ruling party is about to relinquish power. Tsai Ing-wen has no "honeymoon period." The DPP she commands will face the most difficult period in its history. And circumstances may well get worse. She must immediately stop the bleeding, then lead the DPP out of the political wilderness. Frankly this is an impossible task. But Tsai Ing-wen has no time to think about any of this.
Tsai Ing-wen faces a number of difficult problems. She must heal the fissures that developed within the party as a result of the party chairman election. Nearly 40 percent of the DPP did not support her. She must swiftly unite rival factional leaders and create a unified party hierarchy in order to be an effective opposition party. She must begin the nomination process for the upcoming Mayoral and County Magistrate Elections. Above all, she must restore the DPP's morale, which has hit bottom after a long string of defeats. These goals were no problem for past party chairmen, but they are for Tsai Ing-wen, whose qualifications are limited to the halls of academia and the corridors of power.
If it were merely a matter of problem-solving, that would be one thing. But Tsai Ing-wen must deal with a number of intractable issues. First: the across the board loss of ruling party status, being completely cut off from all access to the resources of the state. Will a handful of Princes of the Party with access to resources be willing to share them with Tsai Ing-wen for the good of the party? Frankly no one knows. When Tsai Ing-wen attempts to get things done, she will face serious financial constraints. Second: many officials of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party are still face prosecution for corruption. If investigators and prosecutors find anything illegal, the DPP's image may explore new lows. Third: Princes of the Party who enjoy seniority are surely waiting to make their move. Tsai Ing-wen lacks both resources and seniority. It is surprising they have been as respectful as they have towards her. The danger is they may not show much respect for a future "President Tsai." For Tsai Ing-wen, money is short, problems are many, and nobody cares.
The only thing Tsai Ing-wen can do is rally the Best and the Brightest among the new generation of Young Turks. This group has its roots in the student movement. They have yet to be bought by special interests, and they have the gift of gab. They are the DPP's last hope. If they are able to transcend factional loyalties and work with Tsai Ing-wen, who can say they won't become a force for the party's renewal?
On the eve of May 20, as the Blue camp is mired in petty squabbles over seating protocol, once triumphant DPP officials are packing their bags, preparing to return to civilian life. The DPP fell as swiftly as it rose. The problems it needs to contemplate and confront are overwhelming. This is a reality the entire DPP leadership must confront together. To demand that Tsai Ing-wen bear this cross alone is unreasonable. How the DPP navigates this downturn is something worth watching.