The Perng Phenomenon and DPP Political Calculations
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
May 16, 2011
Like his counterparts in most other democratic nations, the Republic of China Central Bank President enjoys considerable autonomy. Perng Fai-nan has fulfilled his role especially well. He is well thought of, both at home and abroad. He has successfully risen above partisanship. This is not an easy feat on Taiwan. As a result, Perng Fai-nan's late night meeting with Tsai Ing-wen provoked an uproar. It reflects the tensions behind the 2012 presidential election. It also reflects Blue vs. Green opposition on Taiwan. Public figures who can be classified as neutral, are few and far between.
Tsai Ing-wen deliberately downplayed the significance of the secret Tsai/Perng meeting. She stressed that Perng Fai-nan was a respected financial expert. He is "public property." Anyone, from either the ruling or opposition parties, has the right and even duty to seek help from him in solving Taiwan's fiscal woes. What she said is true. But the timing was just too sensitive. The ruling and opposition parties have just confirmed their presidential nominees. The candidates are about to choose their running mates. A late night meeting between Tsai and Perng at this moment will naturally arouse suspicions. In fact, Perng Fai-nan knew the timing was sensitive. He knew the location was sensitive. That is why he initially issued a denial to curious reporters.
The "Tsai/Perng Meeting" is being seen as evidence of a "Tsai/Perng ticket," primarily because of the DPP. Is the DPP seeking a running mate from outside the party?
First of all, the party does need internal restructuring. In theory, if Tsai Ing-wen chooses a running mate about as popular as her, such as rival Su Tseng-chang, that would make for the strongest possible ticket. But relations between Tsai and Su are chilly. Worse, the DPP presidential primary was virtually a showdown between pro-Su and anti-Su elements. Tsai Ing-wen might be willing to set aside her personal feelings and designate Su her running mate, But such a decision would lead to dissatisfaction among party members opposed to Su. On the other hand, if she chose election expert Frank Hsieh, she would provoke a backlash among pro-Su forces. No matter which force prevails, the result would be detrimental to the DPP's election prospects.
Su and Hsieh are party elders. Neither Su nor Hsieh as running mate would preserve the balance of power. Tsai Ing-wen cannot find a middle-aged running mate within the party. Because this person would be perceived as Tsai's successor. This would upset the balance of power among DPP factions. It would provoke a backlash. Tsai Ing-wen has yet to fully consolidate her power within the party. The choice of a middle-aged running mate would run the risk of provoking a power struggle.
In order to preserve the balance of power within the party, Tsai Ing-wen's best option is a running mate from outside the party. In fact, as soon as the DPP made her the party nominee, party leaders immediately began setting conditions. They insisted that Tsai Ing-wen choose a running mate from outside the party, from the financial sector. Another important factor of course, is the DPP's desire to expand its voter base.
Over the past two years, the DPP has gained the upper hand. It won the three in one county and municipal elections, the legislative by-elections, and the five cities elections. But the main reason it won, was that Pan Blue voters stayed home in droves. Green Camp voters remained solid. They participated enthusiastically. During last year's five cities elections, the turnout was as high as 70%. But the DPP, which attempted to appeal to swing voters, still fell short in Greater Taipei. The turnout rate during the presidential election could be as high as 80%. Hsu Hsin-liang referred to these voters, comprising 10% of the total, as "economic voters." They are centrist oriented, and are the key to the presidential election.
How can the DPP attract these swing or independent voters? Political parties do not provide policy. They provide human capital. Fiscal policy was never one of the the DPP's strong suits. In recent years, ideology has led to even greater rigidity. This has created the perception that the DPP "cares only about ideology, not about economics." The DPP has long been proficient in law and politics. It has long been lacking in financial experise. That is why the first time the DPP assumed power, it was forced to retain the services of KMT financial experts. Either that, or look to the business community. The DPP's current situation is not much better than it was back then.
Under the circumstances, Perng is indeed the best vice presidential candidate for the DPP. This is not the first time Perng's name has been mentioned. During the DPP era, Lee Teng-hui wanted Perng as his premier. When Frank Hsieh was running for president, he wanted Perng as his running mate. The Green Camp was not alone. When Ma Ying-jeou was casting about for a running mate, Perng's name came up. Perng Fai-nan has also been considered as a potential Blue Camp candidate.
How can one explain this "Perng Phenomenon?" When he was central bank president, he was professional, honest, and reliable. He enabled Taiwan to survive the financial crisis, and several exchange rate fluctuations. The public trusts him implicitly. No wonder his approval rating has remained the highest in the Ma administration.
More importantly, the Republic of China is a nation of political extremes, with a giant hole at the center. Any centrist force hoping to become involved in politics may mean well. It may start off with enthusiasm, but will inevitably resign in defeat. The best example of course is Lee Yuan-tse. Once he got caught up in the political maelstrom, even his halo as a Nobel laureate and president of the Academia Sinica could not save him from being perceived as a member of the Green Camp. Lee began to lose his appeal to other parties, his authority, and his credibility.
People with a sense of mission cannot of course worry constantly about being slandered or ridiculed. They must not be afraid to take a stand or to enter politics. The important thing is whether they consider it worthwhile. The answer is clear, the DPP needs Perng far more than Perng needs the DPP. After all, the vice president is merely a potential successor to the president. He is of far less importance than the central bank president. If Perng eventually retires and leaves his post as central bank president, he must ask himself whether as DPP vice presidential candidate he would really be able to change the Democratic Progressive Party's fundamental character?