His Last Hurrah: Su Tseng-chang Must Transform the DPP
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
May 28, 2012
Summary: Su Tseng-chang was, as predicted, the standout during the Democratic Progressive Party party chairmanship election. He won over half of the votes. He gained the lead and held it with little difficulty. But a strange thing is happening inside and outside the party. Will Su Tseng-chang be able to fulfill his role as chairman of the party? This question bears on his personal political future. It bears on the transformation of the DPP. It even bears on the political situation on Taiwan.
Full Text below:
Su Tseng-chang was, as predicted, the standout during the Democratic Progressive Party party chairmanship election. He won over half of the votes. He gained the lead and held it with little difficulty. But a strange thing is happening inside and outside the party. Will Su Tseng-chang be able to fulfill his role as chairman of the party? This question bears on his personal political future. It bears on the transformation of the DPP. It even bears on the political situation on Taiwan.
Five candidates took part in the recent party chairmanship election. Su Tseng-chang's resume was impressive and his support was solid. Given his lead over the other four candidates, he should have been a shoo-in. Instead, Su Tseng-chang found himself besieged by the other four candidates. The fog of war obscured the larger picture. Objections to Su Tseng-chang's political style, along with long-simmering factional grievances within the DPP, conspired against him. His rivalry with Tsai Ing-wen turned the party chairmanship election into a war against Su. In response, the Su camp resolved to win over half the votes, to prove just how much support he enjoyed within the party.
The other four candidates leveld two major criticisms against Su Tseng-chang. They said he was narrow-minded, not a team player, and lacked the ability to formulate any groundbreaking policy measures. Their criticisms became the theme of the campaign. Su assumes the chairmanship of the party this Wednesday. All eyes will be on him. Political opponents and allies alike will taking the measure of the man. They will be asking themselves whether Su Tseng-chang can silence his critics. Only then will they decide what to do next. His allies will be wondering whether to double down on their bets. Su Tseng-chang has high ambitions. His performance over the next two years will be critical.
Su Tseng-chang has long been domineering in his manner. Fellow party members have criticized him for this. This is his biggest stumbling block as the attempts his move to the next level. During the party chairmanship election debates, the other candidates blasted Su Tseng-chang's unilateral decision to run for Taipei mayor. They blasted him for resigning the party chairmanship before notifying the Central Standing Committee. The DPP has a long tradition of consensus. The nomination committee is highly respected. It accomodates members of various factions. Su Tseng-chang had no right to act on his own. Hopefully Su Tseng-chang will learn from his mistake. He should emulate Abraham Lincoln's "Team of Rivals." He should recruit supporters of perennial rivals Tsai Ing-wen and Frank Hsieh. Over time he may change peoples impression of him.
Other problems may be more difficult to resolve. How can Su Tseng-chang unify the party? What concrete policies can he champion to tranform the DPP into a responsible opposition party? During the debates Su Tseng-chang noted that support for President Ma Ying-jeou during his first term was weak. So why was Ma reelected, Su asked. Nearly 60% of the public believes Taiwan should be sovereign and independent, Su said. So why is the DPP unable to win more than half the votes? The key reason is that during its four years in the opposition. the DPP did nothing bu protest and object. It never offered any feasible policy alternatives. Voters on Taiwan are smart. They will not support a political party that says no just for the sake of saying no.
Consider the many recent policy debates. The Ma administration was bruised and battered by controversies over Clenbuterol treated beef imports, gasoline and and electricity price hikes, and capital gains tax proposals. The DPP smelled blood. Drunk with schadenfreude, it jumped on the protest bandwagon. But how will the DPP deal with these problems if it is in power? How will it handle Clenbuterol treated beef imports? How will it handle trade agreements with Washington? Can it really get away with cozying up to Washington whenever it is in power, then lashing out at it whenever it is out? Similarly, the DPP opposes nuclear power, even as it opposes electricity price hikes. It prefers to take the taxpayers' money and subsidize major users of electricity. If the DPP returns to power it would saddle our children and grandchildren with debt. For a party such as this to talk about "generational justice" is a joke.
To become a responsible opposition party is no easy task. The KMT waffled repeatedly over whether and how to impose a capital gains tax. The market complained, loudly. The Democratic Progressive Party recently met to discuss the capital gains tax as well. This too led to factional infighting. The party could not reach an agreement. Frankly, such a policy debate within the DPP is a good thing. Nothing under the sun is supposed to come easy. An opposition party that knows only how to say no, can never become the ruling party. The DPP must first talk turkey. Only then can it order convince voters it is ready to return to power.
This is a problem the DPP must face. It is one of Chairman Su's key challenges. Fortunately Su Tseng-chang won an absolute majority during the party chairmanship election. Even second place Su Huan-chih was not a representative of Deep Green forces. Together these two relative moderates accounted for 70% of the vote. Clearly pragmatists still have the upper hand, These comparatively rational party members will become Su Tseng-chang backers as he adopts a more centrist path.
Politicians always say "This is my last hurrah." But the 65-year-old Su Tseng-chang really is running out of time. In the two years to come, he must win over the many factions within the party. He must transform the DPP into an opposition party the people can trust. Achieving either of these goals is hard enough. Achieving both of is harder still. They are in many ways mutually contradictory. This is a tough challenge for Su Tseng-chang, who has no room for error. This truly is his last hurrah.