Will the Real Tsai Ing-wen Please Stand?
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
December 6, 2010
During the recent five cities elections, the KMT won more seats, but the DPP received more votes. Both two parties could claim victories of a sort. But neither party could claim to be the clear winner. From an individual perspective, Democratic Progressive Party chairman Tsai Ing-wen was the big winner. Her recent election bid has finally affirmed her position of leadership within the DPP. Tsai Ing-wen has risen. But people still know little about her. Often their feelings toward her run to extremes. She has qualified for the next stage in her political rise. But her rise may lead to the re-emergence of political uncertainty on Taiwan.
Elections are exercises in pragmatism. The DPP is nothing if not pragmatic. Tsai Ing-wen has relinquished her original career goals. Beginning in 2008, she began leading the Democratic Progressive Party through its downturn. But for Democratic Progressive Party elders, Tsai Ing-wen, having never run for public office, remained untested. During power struggles within the DPP, she had no special advantage. But the five cities elections changed all that. Su Tseng-chang is another highly vocal presidential candidate within the party. His showing during the recent elections was less than stellar. It was considerably less stellar than Tsai Ing-wen's. In the DPP, if one succeeds one is a hero, if one fails, one is a non-entity. Therefore except for a few fringe elements, Tsai Ing-wen is the DPP's prime candidate for president in 2012.
But Tsai Ing-wen's struggle has only begun. Voters view the presidential election and the five cities elections differently. Also, Tsai Ing-wen has never had the courage to confront the defects in the DPP's political path. Whether the DPP changes its political path may determine whether it wins or loses the presidential election.
The DPP received more votes than the KMT. DPP Central Standing Committee members from all factions have lept to the same conclusion. They have concluded that the public has given the DPP's ideological path its stamp of approval. The reality is that Tsai Ing-wen waged a very un-DPP campaign. She avoided inciting "ethnic" (communal) strife. She avoided foul language. She avoided emotional outbursts and person abuse. She even avoided attacking opponents head on. This was the most emotionally restrained election campaign waged by the DPP in a decade. Was this "Little Ying's" political path? Or was it the Democratic Progressive Party's political path? More importantly, has the DPP really changed in its heart of hearts?
Over the past two years, the DPP has avoided discussing cross-Strait policy. DPP cross-Strait policy remains a combination of its Taiwan independence party platform and its Resolution on Taiwan's Future. Grass-roots party members also wave the banner of independence and nation building. Democratic Progressive Party legislators, even when dealing with issues unrelated to reunification or independence, seeth with hatred for Mainland China.
Rampant corruption during Chen Shui-bian's presidency is also unfinished DPP business. The DPP has never made a clean break with Ah-Bian. During the recent elections, Deep Greens voted for Ah-Bian's "One Nation Each Side Connection." They helped the Democratic Progressive Party marginalize the Taiwan Solidarity Union. This enabled the DPP to appeal to swing votes without concern that it would alienate Deep Greens. But fortune and misfortune go hand in hand. Nearly 80% of the supporters of the Ah-Bian Connection were elected. They accounted for nearly a quarter of DPP city councilor seats. This handed Ah-Bian a major bargaining chip. One day, if he turns against his current allies, Tsai Ing-wen or the DPP may pay a heavy price.
The DPP launched a coordinated attack, gaining support from swing voters and supporters of the Ah-Bian Connnection alike. But what exactly is "Little Ying's" political path? What exactly is on Tsai Ing-wen's mind? This has long remained a mystery. Acting on behalf of former President Lee Teng-hui, Tsai Ing-wen trotted out the "two-states theory." As Chairman of the Mainland Affairs Council, under Chen Shui-bian, she obstinately opposed the 1992 Consensus. This year, during her debate with President Ma Ying-jeou, she blasted ECFA. She alleged that it would change the balance of power in East Asia and hand the Mainland a strategic advantage. She alleged that ECFA would increase the gap between rich and poor on Taiwan. Nevertheless, Tsai Ing-wen deliberately played down the ECFA issue during the five cities elections.
For Tsai Ing-wen, this may have been a deliberate attempt at "strategic ambiguity." She may have wanted to leave room for future negotiations. But lest we forget, the biggest fear during elections remains uncertainty. Washington has close relations with Taipei. Beijing is concerned about stability in the Taiwan Strait. Voters and foreign investors will not necessarily be happy to see the status quo overturned.
Tsai Ing-wen has many advantages over the "princes of the DPP" and other DPP elites. DPP officials got their start by participating in political movements, the same as the KMT. They know how to inspire voter enthusiasm. They are adept at political strategy and analysis. But a lifetime of politicking may lead one to confuse political struggle with political governance. This may make partisan politics even more polarized. By contrast, Tsai Ing-wen began as an academic. Her cleaner image has inspired greater voter trust. More importantly, Tsai Ing-wen's involvement has provided the DPP with another perspective, She intends to promote her Political Platform for the Coming Decade, to address the real issues currently confronting Taiwan, including an aging population, global warming, and the gap between rich and poor.
Some in the Green Camp have compared Tsai Ing-wen to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Indeed, both are quiet masters of political manipulation. But Germany has a cabinet system and a coalition government. Whenever Merkel promotes a policy, she must compromise. By contrast, the Republic of China is currently leaning toward a presidential system. The president-elect enjoys "winner-take-all" status. This makes "Little Ying's" political path a matter of deep concern. When the Democratic Progressive Party discusses its Platform for the Coming Decade, it must honestly champion the path of moderation. Otherwise winning the presidency will not be quite so easy.