Tsai Ing-wen in 2016: Four Uncertainties
China Times Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
March 13, 2015
Executive Summary: Eric Chu may offer a breakthrough in cross-Strait policy, Tsai Ing-wen, by contrast, continues to hem and haw. Can the KMT consolidate support behind a single candidate, even if Eric Chu decides not to run? If it can, its election prospects may not remain in the pits. In the coming ten months, leaders of both parties will face an endless string of political and policy challenges. Tsai Ing-wen faces no fewer than the KMT. Tsai Ing-wen's smug complacency is more than a little premature.
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As soon as the results of the nine in one elections were announced, DPP momentum surged. It now appears as if victory in next year's presidential election is assured. First of all, the DPP presidential candidate has already been decided. The KMT, by contrast, is stuck. Several potential candidates have prior political commitments, or are dogged by controversy. They are unable to rally Kuomintang supporters behind them, never mind win public support. Tsai Ing-wen only has to play a waiting game.
Secondly, the political winds greatly favor the DPP and Tsai Ing-wen. Political pundits and ordinary voters alike have concluded that Tsai Ing-wen will unquestionably be the winner in next year's presidential election. Voters on Taiwan have long been "bandwagon jumpers" contemptuous of “born losers”. Therefore the political winds definitely favor Tsai Ing-wen.
Indeed, Tsai Ing-wen has already become smugly complacent. Recently, Tsai Ing-wen said that her presidential campaign strategy “would not spend large sums for advertising, would not resort to traditional organization and mobilization." Instead it would rely on the "cyber army" to "organize and mobilize the biggest defeat ever of the Kuomintang". This is very much how Lai Ching-teh won reelection as mayor. But this strategy overestimates Tsai Ing-wen's online support. It also underestimates the KMT's campaign ability.
Tsai Ing-wen told reporters that "Dealing with interpersonal relationships is important for politicians." She said that she was "quite capable of handling interpersonal relationships, which is why despite many people's pessimism about me, I am still here." Actually, there is a huge gap between Tsai Ing-wen's self-image and her image in political and media circles. This shows just how complacent and self-satisfied she has become. That does not bode well for Tsai Ing-wen.
Should Tsai Ing-wen be optimistic about her election prospects? To answer that question, many objective and subjective factors must be considered. First, there is the Chen Shui-bian factor. Chen and Tsai have unresolved grievances. Their paths differ. Chen's influence is difficult to estimate, and he will be difficult to control. Second, according to various polls, support for the DPP is unquestionably higher than support for the KMT. The gap is also widening. That said, Tsai Ing-wen is not a shoo-in given all possible candidates. Some polls even show her slightly trailing Eric Chu and Wang Jin-pyng. One pundit says "The presumption is that Tsai Ing-wen is a shoo in. Yet Tsai's poll numbers have never exceeded 50%. They have fluctuated between 42 and 49%."
Former DPP Legislator Julian Kuo noted three major difficulties. He said "During the 2012 presidential election, Tsai Ing-wen faced three major obstacles. Cross-Strait issues undermined support in Taipei and New Taipei. Support in southern Taiwan was lukewarm. Grassroots campaigns in Taoyuan, Xinchu, and Miaoli were inadequate. Today there still remains much room for improvement." Despite six years of Kuomintang ineptitude, support and enthusiasm for Tsai Ing-wen is actually far less than support for Ma Ying-jeou in 2008.
Third, Tsai Ing-wen's "Final Mile" is not as easy to negotiate as expected. It is much farther away than previously imagined. People know that Tsai Ing-wen's "Final Mile" is all about cross-Strait relations, or more precisely, trilateral relations between Taipei, Beijing, and Washington. Early this year, it was rumored that Tsai Ing-wen would visit the US. But so far there has been much thunder and little rain. The word is "conditions have not been set." In other words, Washington is still worried about Tsai Ing-wen's cross-Strait policy.
Meanwhile, the Mainland is not merely "listening to Tsai Ing-wen says and watching what she does.” It is already deeply suspicious of her. It has repeatedly expressed concerns regarding positions held by the DPP and Tsai Ing-wen. Recently Xi Jinping reiterated, "The 1992 consensus has an irreplaceable role in cross-Strait political trust, dialogue, consultation, and improved relations. If this cross-Strait political foundation is destroyed, cross-Strait trust will be lost. Cross-Strait relations will revert to chaos." This was the Mainland making its position clear to Tsai Ing-wen and other Taiwan political leaders, ahead of any changes resulting from the upcoming presidential election.
The DPP has not responded vehemently to the Mainland's declaration. It has not posted anything online. But the DPP's "three benefits" and "three constants" failed to answer any of the substantive questions on everyone's mind. Questions such as how a ruling Democratic Progressive Party would maintain, consolidate, and develop the cross-Strait political trust. Washington and Beijing both harbour doubts about Tsai Ing-wen. Tsai Ing-wen is neither willing nor able to reverse the situation. That means her "Final Mile" will be a long one indeed.
Fourth, the KMT is not standing still. Eric Chu has taken over as party chairman. Step by step, he is going his own way. He is reforming party personnel appointments, restructuring and transforming think tanks, establishing an examination system, resolving the Ma Wang controversy, abolishing honorary chairmanships, and gradually revealing his own political style. Recently, Eric Chu visited Hong Kong and Singapore, raising his international profile. More importantly, he is clear about his support for the 1992 consensus. KMT and CCP leaders have expressed strong support. He has met Beijing's expectations and allayed Beijing's concerns. This has greatly enhanced his reputation and image. His father in law Kao Yu-jen has advanced a "Beyond the 1992 Consensus" thesis, leading to public speculation about Eric Chu's cross-Strait stance.
Eric Chu may offer a breakthrough in cross-Strait policy, Tsai Ing-wen, by contrast, continues to hem and haw. Can the KMT consolidate support behind a single candidate, even if Eric Chu decides not to run? If it can, its election prospects may not remain in the pits. In the coming ten months, leaders of both parties will face an endless string of political and policy challenges. Tsai Ing-wen faces no fewer than the KMT. Tsai Ing-wen's smug complacency is more than a little premature.