Can Tsai Ing-wen Lead the Nation if She Will Not Say Where She Stands?
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
May 20, 2014
Summary: Taiwan society has moved on, to politicians who have the courage to say
what they think. Old stereotypes and old thinking have been left behind.
Candidates must offer new strategies and genuine substance. They
cannot avoid controversy. They cannot contradict themselves. They must
declare what the problems are. They must be decisive in their actions.
This is a new era. Taiwan society needs new political leaders. These
political leaders cannot be afraid to champion their beliefs. They
cannot be afraid to face those who oppose their beliefs. Only then can
the people make their own choice about whom they want to represent them.
Only then can they express fervent support for the candidate of their
choice. Tsai Ing-wen has contemplated this problem for several years.
But clearly she needs to contemplate it even more.
Full Text Below:
Earlier this year, Tsai Ing-wen went on FaceBook and promised to act responsibly. "In 2014, I will work with everyone during this critical year to help the DPP and the nation make the right choices." Her choice was to run for re-election as DPP chair. As she herself said, she wanted to reform the Democratic Progressive Party, to make sure that it was keeping pace with the times.
It was not that difficult for Tsai Ing-wen to make a personal decision. Su Tseng-chang and Frank Hsieh had already withdrawn from the race. That "Xiaoying" would be leader of the DPP was a foregone conclusion. But the question is, can Tsai Ing-wen become Taiwan's leader as well? Can she become Taiwan's best choice as a leader over the coming years? That remains in serious doubt.
Tsai Ing-wen has been on the political stage and engaged in political activities for some time now. Her distinguishing trait has not been political courage or problem solving. It has not been a glowing record of accomplishments for the benefit of the common man, It has not been the resolute championing of any particular political path, on the way to any particular political goal. No. These are not Tsai Ing-wen's political trademark. Why? Because all of these require taking a stand. They require making choices between different ideas, different interests, and different groups, They require shining a light on one's political views and principles. They require championing a particular stance, which inevitably provokes a backlash from opponents of that particular stance. This is what Tsai Ing-wen habitually avoids.
As a result, Tsai In-wen's most distinctive trait has been her pretty catchphrases. She invariably uses the trendiest, most progressive, and most innocuous political rhetoric to package herself. But she never expresses an opinion on the all important key issues. She never explains her strategy. She never chooses sides. Politics is of course not black and white, not either-or. Often answers are found in the middle, midway between right and wrong. There is indeed is a gray area. There may be room for compromise and reconcilation. But this does not mean one can always avoid conflicts and sensitive issues. After all, one must first have a position, one must first have principles. Only then can one compromise and make concessions.
Tsai Ing-wen's New Year's Day FaceBook speech stated that "On certain issues, we must express the party's attitude and stance." It stated that "Politics is a kind of choice! It is a choice made in a rapidly changing external environment." Tsai Ing-wen has an image as someone who utters only empty rhetoric and pretty words. It would seem, to a greater or lesser degreee, that she wants to change that image. She is prepared to express her "attitude and stance." She is prepared to make choices on key issues. Unfortunately her performance at the DPP Chairmanship television debate showed that she has made no real change or progress. She remains vague and wavering. Any change was severely limited.
Tsai Ing-wen said Taiwan can no longer follow the economic growth strategy of the previous century. She said she and her campaign committee were "trying to find a new model." Their "guidepost would be innovation, entrepreneurship, and job creation. Economic development would be accompanied by the redistribution of wealth." Good. Given Taiwan's economic bottlenecks, not many people want to cling to the strageties of the previous century. Nobody opposes innovation, entrepreneurship, and job creation. Tsai's platitudes are irrelevant. The real question is whether she can offer a convincing solution. One key issue is taxation. What system of taxation does Tsai Ing-wen propose, in order to "redistribute the wealth?" How does she plan to use the tax system to encourage "innovation, entrepreneurship, and job creation?" So far, Tsai Ing-wen has not stated any positions or made any choices.
Tsai Ing-wen said we must maintain peace and stability in cross-Strait relations. She said cross-Strait exchanges should focus on "quality" instead of "quantity." She said we must return to democratization and transparency. Businesses and political parties must no longer hold monopolies. She said the cross-Strait economy was originally about individual commercial interests, but must instead be about larger national economic interests. Good. No one dares advocate cross-Strait exchanges that advance only the interests of monopolistic interests. No one thinks cross-Strait exchanges should be under the table deals. Tsai Ing-wen's catchphrases are all very pretty. But they cannot hide what actually matters in cross-Strait relations. For example, what kind of economic and trade agreements will result in "high quality" cross-Strait exchanges? For example, the DPP refuses to recognize the 1992 consensus. It is unable to offer new ideas acceptable to both sides. Therefore how can the DPP "maintain peace and stability" in cross-Strait relations?
Tsai Ing-wen has improved. She acknowledges that cross-Strait relations are important for "peace and stability." That is a step in the right direction. But she has not explained what cross-Strait policy agenda the DPP should set forward. She has not explained how the DPP will achieve "peace and stability," "democracy," "transparency," and "take into account the nation's larger economic interests?" Are we to understand that ECFA, the STA, and the GTA are really nothing more than "individual commercial interest-oriented?" Are we to understand that they harm "the nation's larger economic interests?" Shouldn't Tsai Ing-wen act responsibly and state her position more clearly?
Tsai Ing-wen is atypical for a Taiwanese politician. Her campaign committee has packaged her very cleverly. She utters pretty, progressive catchphrases. She markets herself by not adopting any clear policy positions. Her presentation is neutral, mild, with no sharp edges, and no clear policy positions. This enables her to cross the Blue/Green divide and seek over half the votes.
But she and her campaign committee have failed to realize something. Taiwan society has moved on, to politicians who have the courage to say what they think. Old stereotypes and old thinking have been left behind. Candidates must offer new strategies and genuine substance. They cannot avoid controversy. They cannot contradict themselves. They must declare what the problems are. They must be decisive in their actions. This is a new era. Taiwan society needs new political leaders. These political leaders cannot be afraid to champion their beliefs. They cannot be afraid to face those who oppose their beliefs. Only then can the people make their own choice about whom they want to represent them. Only then can they express fervent support for the candidate of their choice. Tsai Ing-wen has contemplated this problem for several years. But clearly she needs to contemplate it even more.