Ma/Su Dialogue: Ruling and Opposition Party Reconciliation
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
May 29, 2012
Summary: Su Tseng-chang faces some daunting challenges. He must unify the party from within. He must promote ruling and opposition party dialogue. He must even help Taipei and Beijing achieve rapprochement. Su Tseng-chang's problems are also problems for President Ma Ying-jeou.chairman of the ruling KMT. Ma and Su must take practical action. They must let the public on Taiwan know that relations between the ruling and opposition parties is entering a new phase. Changes have led to a watershed in ruling and opposition party relations. From this day forward, the national interest will take precedence over partisan interests.
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The DPP has completed its hotly contested party chairman by-election. The election set a new record for voter turnout in a DPP by-election -- 69.6% -- the highest since 1998. The election also set a new record for the winning candidate, Su Tseng-chang -- 50.47% -- the lowest since the previous party chairmanship election. These figures show that Su Tseng-chang faces some daunting challenges. He must unify the party from within. He must promote ruling and opposition party dialogue. He must even help Taipei and Beijing achieve rapprochement. Su Tseng-chang's problems are also problems for President Ma Ying-jeou.chairman of the ruling KMT. Ma and Su must take practical action. They must let the public on Taiwan know that relations between the ruling and opposition parties is entering a new phase. Changes have led to a watershed in ruling and opposition party relations. From this day forward, the national interest will take precedence over partisan interests.
Su Tseng-chang was once a party official. When Su retired as Pingtung County Chief, DPP Chairman Shih Ming-teh appointed him DPP Secretary General. During Su's term as Secretary General, the DPP held its first ever general audit of party members. It held its first ever party primaries for ROC President, Taiwan Provincial Governor, and city mayors. Su's record was exemplary. He gained a reputation as "the secretary-general who let the chairman get all the applause." After the DPP came to power in 2005, Su ran unopposed for the position of party chairman. He received 99.71% of the vote. The following year, under Su's leadership, the DPP won 127 seats in the National Assembly. For the first time in history, the DPP was the largest party in the legislature. Together with the Chen administration, they successfully passed an amendment abolishing the National Assembly.
The second time Su was elected party chairman, the political situation was dramatically different. The rivalry between Su and Hsieh was now a rivalry between Su and Tsai. The "Ah-Bian Problem" constantly demanded attention. The DPP no longer commanded the resources and power of the ruling party. The former may have been more serious than the latter. The Democratic Progressive Party went from opposition party to ruling party. Starting over from scratch probably felt perfectly normal. Consider the DPP's current situation. It is looking to the seven in one election two years from now. For the DPP the odds are good. As an opposition party, it has nothing to lose. Su Tseng-chang is a former defense lawyer, a former Taiwan Provincial Assembly Member, and a former local government leader. For him dialoguing with the ruling KMT is not a problem. The problem is persuading comrades within his own party. The problem is persuading them to dialogue with Ma Ying-jeou.
Based on past experience, Su Tseng-chang may be able to persuade himself and persuade his comrades. The DPP may be an ideologically-motivated political party. But it has never been an irrational political party. Ever since the party was founded, the DPP has never ruled out dialogue with those in power. This was true under Jiang Pengjian. This was true under Huang Hsin-chieh. This was also true under Hsu Hsin-liang, Shih Ming-teh, and Chen Shui-bian. It was true even during the era of street protests. The DPP never refused to communicate with those in power. It carried on its struggle and communicated with those in power simultaneously. This allowed the DPP to grow. This allowed democracy to evolve. As a result the legislature underwent a thoroughgoing re-election. The President was directly elected. Eventually the DPP came to power. The Republic of China government experienced a change in ruling parties. It finally had a democracy worthy of the name. This would have been impossible without ruling and opposition party cooperation and competition.
The DPP came to power for the first time. President Chen Shui-bian served two terms, or eight years. No matter how bad relations became between the ruling and opposition parties, no one gave up on interparty consultations. Most importantly, when Chen Shui-bian was in office, he advanced his "New Centrist Path." For the very first time the DPP entered a new realm. This is something even Ma Ying-jeou failed to achieve during his first term. Ma Ying-jeou failed to do his homework. Former Democratic Progressive Party Chairman Tsai Ing-wen failed as well. Tsai Ing-wen lost the opportunity to transform the DPP. Now the opportunity has fallen into the hands of Su Tseng-chang. Su Tseng-chang should approach the challenge with greater aggressiveness.
Consider the matter from another angle. What does the DPP have to lose? As political elders, Su Tseng-chang and Tsai Ing-wen must clash. But they must also wait four years. Much lot can happen in four years. Never mind whether Su Tseng-chang's leadership style differs from Tsai Ing-wen's. Ask yourself why the DPP is always a day late and a dollar short vis a vis party transformation. Does it really intend to squander the next four years in a standoff with the ruling KMT? As party chairman, Su Tseng-chang must lead the party to election victory. But he must also lead the party through its transformation. The latter is the key to the former. How can a decrepit, even mummified DPP possibly return to power?
On election night, President Ma telephoned Su Tseng-chang to congratulate him. This one telephone call broke through barriers Tsai Ing-wen erected over four-years. Both ruling and opposition party leaders have demonstrated greater tolerance and forbearance. Su Tseng-chang did not immediately reject President Ma's invitation. He later said "The KMT and DPP should increase dialogue over social welfare issues. If a Ma/Su meeting can achieve this goal, there is no reason to refuse." He acted in a manner befitting the chairman of an opposition party, Of course, he also added, "If we are meeting only to put on a show, then we need not bother." In effect, Su dared Ma Ying-jeou to put his money where his mouth is.
The ruling and opposition parties have begun reconciling. The ruling and opposition parties have also begun competing. The KMT and the DPP are the latitude and longitude of our democracy, Both are indispensable. The Ma/Su meeting is a competition between the ruling and opposition parties, over which demonstrates greater tolerance and forbearance. They are also competing over policy and vision. From this moment forward, Ma Ying-jeou and Su Tseng-chang must give greater thought to "just what is in the national interest." The sooner Ma and Su address this problem, the sooner they can promote the general welfare.