What Ever Happened to the DPP's "Political Platform for the Coming Decade?"China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
July 24, 2010
Following the Three in One Elections, the Democratic Progressive Party achieved a string of electoral victories. It has gathered momentum in the Five Cities Elections, and the KMT is feeling the heat. However, a recent reorganization of the party's power structure has caused the DPP to revert to form. The party is now caught in a power struggle. It has lost sight of the issues, and unable to offer any coherent policy proposals.
The workings of the DPP have been remarkably consistent with sociologist Robert Michel's "Iron Law of Oligarchy." To wit, the DPP's euphemistic "democratic centralism." The DPP's Central Standing Committee and Central Executive Committee elections have long been held hostage to factional power struggles. Even Annette Lu recently became another "white bunny who strayed into the jungle." She unsuccessfully tried to seize power within the Central Standing Committee. Her bid was much too naive. The DPP nomination process has long been decided by party factions or party bosses. No one has ever seized power on the basis of personal charisma.
The current "new faces, old forces" power struggle has gone too far. Chen Sheng-hong is the head of a local DPP political machine. He and his wife, DPP legislator Hsue Ling want their son to be made a member of the Central Standing Committee, so that he can run for city councilman. Chen Sheng-hong had himself transferred to the Central Standing Committee, and made Chairman of the Central Evaluation Committee. The DPP is the largest opposition party on the island. Yet it allows itself to be manipulated by a single family. The Party Chairman and Party Princes have yet to utter a single word in protest. They have demeaned themselves by kowtowing to the demands of power.
The New Tide Faction, the largest faction in the DPP, is not much better. In order to counter Annette Lu and seize three seats on the Standing Committee, it endorsed Yen Hsiao-ching, an inexperienced Kaohsiung County Councilman for Central Standing Committee member. The Central Standing Committee should not be a gerentocracy. But the new generation is politically unqualified. They were nominated to the Central Standing Committee purely to protect the interests of their respective factions. Such a Central Standing Committee will inevitably degenerate into a "smoke-filled room" for the divvying up of factional spoils, not a forum for the discussion of important policies.
Politics has always been about the distribution of power. But the conduct of the DPP is cause for concern. It is the reason why the DPP cannot find a new direction. Party elections are all about "power for the sake of power." They represent what the party is really about. The party may not be able to explain its policies. But its objective is plain for all to see -- to seize power, and nothing else.
The DPP, whose current objective is to regain power, pales before the DPP prior to gaining power. Before the DPP gained power, it understood that its cross-Strait policy was its Achilles Heel. During debates over the party's Mainland policy, party insiders and outsiders worked closely to arrive at a consensus. Dissenters wtihin the DPP expressed their opposition openly. For one, this was consistent with intra-party democracy. For another, public debate involving diverse views offered the greatest possibility of arriving at workable policy. In 1999 it allowed the DPP to propose its comparatively moderate "Resolution on Taiwan's Future," and to ameliorate voter anxiety.
In 2008 the DPP was routed. One reason was Chen family corruption. But another reason was hardline Taiwan independence cross-Strait policies that moved far away from the political center. Tsai Ing-wen has been DPP chairman for two years. Yet the DPP has deliberately refused to offer a clear cross-Strait policy. The party leadership is afraid that cross-Strait policy debate may anger Deep Greens and cause a split within the party. But refusing to discuss such issues is tantamount to allowing Deep Green hate speech to monopolize the debate. Given such an atmosphere, any cross-Strait negotiations or agreements will inevitably be characterized as "Selling out Taiwan!" ECFA will inevitably be characterized as "the establishment of a One China Market," as "the first step towards reunification," and "the disenfranchisement of the disadvantaged."
Tsai Ing-wen repeated appealed to DPP legislators to engage in rational discussion of ECFA. But Deep Greens dictated policy. Therefore bloody clashes were entirely predictable. What's worse, the DPP has yet to offer a reasonable cross-Strait policy. Its opposition to ECFA is rife with internal contradictions. If ECFA is really all bad and no good, Tsai Ing-wen should have threatened a referendum to repeal ECFA long ago. The DPP should have been eager to add a sunset clause to ECFA. But some DPP leaders are afraid Beijing might attempt to influence the election by terminating ECFA.
The DPP's internal contradictions are not limited to cross-Strait policy. The DPP has accused the Ma administration of giving tax cuts to the rich. But DPP legislators took the lead by proposing a 17.5% tax cut for big business, forcing the KMT to raise the ante. The Five Cities Elections are upon us. DPP elders are asking Lin Yi-hsiung to rejoin the party, and work for its future. But Lin Yi-hsiung demands a halt to the construction of the Number Four Nuclear Plan, or a referendum to that effect. Has the DPP leadership taken this into account? The DPP has never offered a coherent energy efficiency and carbon reduction policy. Yet this is clearly an important issue that every political party in the 21st century must think through.
Any political party that wishes to return to power, must offer a set of policies appropriate for a new era. The British Conservative Party had the courage to propose unpopular measures such as streamlining the government. Nevertheless it won the support of voters come election time. For the sake of peace, Tsai Ing-wen proposed a "Political Platform for the Coming Decade." It demonstrated her desire for a responsible policy. But the DPP is courageous only during internal power struggles. It is pusillanimous during debates over important policy. That is why it is hard to be optimistic about the fate of the Political Platform for the Coming Decade.