DPP Must Not Duck the Issue of Reunification
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
January 18, 2011
Summary: During the 2012 presidential election, DPP candidate Tsai Ing-wen was highly vocal. In the end however, she lost by a 6% landslide margin. The Democratic Progressive Party longs to return to power. But the huge margin of victory shows that the biggest obstacle standing in the way of the DPP returning to office is not the DPP's election tactics, but its overly rigid ideology. The DPP must undergo a bold transformation. It must adopt a pragmatic cross-strait policy. More than the future of Taiwan is at stake. Also at stake is whether voters will ever entrust power to the DPP.
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During the 2012 presidential election, DPP candidate Tsai Ing-wen was highly vocal. In the end however, she lost by a 6% landslide margin. The Democratic Progressive Party longs to return to power. But the huge margin of victory shows that the biggest obstacle standing in the way of the DPP returning to office is not the DPP's election tactics, but its overly rigid ideology. The DPP must undergo a bold transformation. It must adopt a pragmatic cross-strait policy. More than the future of Taiwan is at stake. Also at stake is whether voters will ever entrust power to the DPP.
The election result was an embarrassment to the DPP. During her campaign Tsai relentlessly castigated KMT presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou's cross-Strait policy. She said it undermined "Taiwan's sovereignty." She said it only looked after the interests of big business. She said it neglected the welfare of the majority of ordinary citizens. Yet Ma Ying-jeou received over half the vote. This shows that most voters did not buy into the DPP's simplistic and distorted spin control.
Does the DPP really believe in Taiwan's democracy? If it does, it should realize that over half the voters cannot possibly be guilty of "pandering to [Mainland] China and selling out Taiwan." In fact, the election was essentially a referendum on the 1992 Consensus. The majority of voters demanded both national sovereignty and cross-Strait peace. The 1992 consensus perfectly fills the bill in both cases. Meanwhile, voters agreed that the incumbent deserved a second term. This election result shows that they think the path the nation is taking is correct, and that they are satisfied with the status quo.
Republic of China citizens have spoken. How will the DPP choose to interpret what they have said? Will it inadvertently or deliberately misinterpret what they have said? The DPP's decision will determine its fate as a political party. For example, will Deep Greens argue that Tsai Ing-wen lost support in the south because she did not campaign as vigorously as Chen Shui-bian did in 2000? The DPP may find itself hijacked by Taiwan independence extremists.
In fact, the election result was determined by a five to six percentage point swing vote, by so-called "economic voters" who voted their pocketbooks. During the local level five cities mayoral elections, these voters were willing to support the Democratic Progressive Party as a check on the ruling KMT. They enabled the DPP to win 49% of the vote. But a year later, during the central level elections, despite these voters' dissatisfaction with the Ma administration, they refused to vote for the DPP. The DPP was unable to win more than 45% of the vote. This was to be the fate of the Democratic Progressive Party in the central government level election.
Actually, DPP leaders know the main battle during the presidential election was fought over the swing vote. That is why one seldom saw DPP party flags at DPP election rallies. That is why Tsai Ing-wen made a point of proclaiming that "Taiwan is the Republic of China, and the Republic of China is Taiwan." That is why she trotted out her "grand coalition" concept late in the campaign. Tsai Ing-wen refuses to accept the 1992 consensus. But the words "Taiwan independence" also vanished from Pan Green election rallies. Instead, Tsai Ing-wen touted her "Taiwan consensus." To some extent she was attempting to blur the line between Deep Green and swing voters. But her "Taiwan consensus" was devoid of substance. As a result it backfired. Voters were not reassured. They refused to give her carte blanche. Voters in 2000 had already given the DPP a chance, During his campaign, Chen Shui-bian proposed a "New Centrist Path." During his inauguration, he promised to abide by his "Five Noes." But less than four years later, he reneged on those promises. He even adopted an extremist, de jure Taiwan independence posture. The lesson is clear. The voters are clearly afraid. They fear that even if Tsai Ing-wen wins, the DPP may still cling to its rigid ideology.
This is another lesson learned from the election results. In future elections the DPP cannot rely on elections to motivate transformation, It must spell out its cross-Strait policy during the election campaign. Tsai Ing-wen has been party chairman for four years. During that time, she has deliberately avoided discussing cross-Strait policy, Evading the issues may temporarily keep peace within the DPP. But this sort of ambiguity will never win over rational swing voters.
Following the election, the DPP has been engaging in some soul-searching. It is clear that the pragmatists within the party are gaining ground. For example, DPP Central Standing Committee Member Tuan Yi-kang urged the DPP to be honest about the 1992 Consensus. DPP Legislator Chen Ming-wen was equally blunt. He said the DPP's China policy collides with reality. This is encouraging. But Tsai Ing-wen is about to leave office in May. Once she does, the DPP will elect its party chairman. As a matter or record, DPP leaders often pander to Deep Greens during internecine power struggles, using ideology as a tool for infighting. If so, the Democratic Progressive Party may find itself adopting an even more extremist Taiwan independence path. If it does, it will find it even harder to return to power.
Of course the future need not be so grim, For the next two years at least, no more elections are scheduled. Younger, middle-aged party leaders are looking to make their move. They may take advantage of the opportunity to discuss the DPP's cross-Strait policy direction. This however, may be difficult. The centrists and Taiwan independence extremists within the DPP are poles apart. But this is something the party must tackle, Otherwise the DPP will never break through Tsai Ing-wen's 45% ceiling. It will never return to power.