New Three Kingdoms Pales Next to Old
United Daily News Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
August 19, 2015
Executive Summary: Less than five months remain before the presidential election. The KMT's
Hung Hsiu-chu, the DPP's Tsai Ing-wen, and the PFP's James Soong,
constitute a "triumvirate" reminiscent of the 2000 presidential
election. Back then, Lien Chan, James Soong, and Chen Shui-bian squared
off against each other. This "New Three Kingdoms" bears a certain
resemblance to the "Old Three Kingdoms". But this time the candidates
differ. The political environment differs. The voters' options differ.
It would be difficult to say that politics on Taiwan has progressed. On
the contrary, it would be easy to conclude that it has regressed.
Full Text Below:
Less than five months remain before the presidential election. The KMT's Hung Hsiu-chu, the DPP's Tsai Ing-wen, and the PFP's James Soong, constitute a "triumvirate" reminiscent of the 2000 presidential election. Back then, Lien Chan, James Soong, and Chen Shui-bian squared off against each other. This "New Three Kingdoms" bears a certain resemblance to the "Old Three Kingdoms". But this time the candidates differ. The political environment differs. The voters' options differ. It would be difficult to say that politics on Taiwan has progressed. On the contrary, it would be easy to conclude that it has regressed.
The three major candidates during the 2000 presidential election were the KMT's Lien Chan, the DPP's Chen Shui-bian, and KMT apostate James Soong. Sixteen years later, public feelings toward these three has dramatically changed. But given the political and social climate at the time, these three were the "men of the hour". Lien Chan was outgoing President Lee Teng-hui's designated successor. HIs qualifications and character were exceptional. Chen Shui-bian was the shining star of the DPP, a real go-getter, and the first directly elected mayor of the nation's capital. James Soong lost the political struggle within the KMT, and lacked the support of any political party. But his halo as former Taiwan Provincial governor remained bright, and made him a highly attractive candidate.
Because the three candidates had different backgrounds and character traits, the campaign could be considered classic. The three camps mustered all their forces to win voter support. The three camps were diametrically opposed in their campaign literature, organizational structure, and policy proposals. Every attack drew blood. Taiwan had only recently emerged from authoritarianism. The competition was not entirely fair. Emotions ran high. People found themselves at loggerheads with each other. The result was a painful blue camp schism. But democratic participation during the 2000 presidential election was key to Taiwan's democratic politics, and laid the foundation for Taiwan's party politics.
Yet 16 years later, the three candidates currently in the running, fail to inspire the same enthusiasm among the electorate back then. Put bluntly, it would be hard to describe any of the "New Three Kingdoms" candidates as a "man (or woman) of the hour", at least when compared with those of the "Old Three Kingdoms". That includes four time presidential candidate James Soong, now a mere shadow of his former self. For the voters, the campaign has been a disappointment. For the political system, the campaign reveals how much democracy has regressed.
First take front-runner Tsai Ing-wen. Chen Shui-bian's ability to excite the masses was extraordinary. Tsai Ing-wen falls far short in that department. Her virtues are her composure and ability to strategize. Tsai Ing-wen's problem is her peculiar ambiguity. She never makes anything clear. She is never able to make anything clear. She creates for herself a gray area that leaves the public in the dark. After losing four years ago, she resolved to take her ambiguity to the extreme. The DPP is a rough and tumble political party. As it carries Tsai Ing-wen aloft in a sedan chair, the incongruity borders on hypocrisy.
Now take the KMT's Hung Hsiu-chu. She won the KMT nomination only because the "A List" candidates were afraid to do battle. Her political qualifications are solid. But she lacks experience in command. She can only consolidate her core support. She lacks the ability to broaden her appeal. She pales next to Lien Chan, who enjoyed the backing of the party machine. James Soong meanwhile, has experienced over a decade of ups and downs. He has flip-flopped endlessly. His halo as governor long ago lost its lustre. All that remains is his political ambition, his obstinate refusal to admit defeat. Can he really transcend blue and green? Can he really spearhead a "grand coalition"? It all sounds great. But from the perspective of outsiders, Soong is merely letting his selfish drive for power undermine his political responsibilities.
The "New Three Kingdoms" pales next to the "Old Three Kingdoms". Tsai Ing-wen in 2016 pales next to Chen Shui-bian in 2000. Hung Hsiu-chu in 2016 pales next to Lien Chan in 2000. James Soong in 2016 pales next to James Soong in 2000. That is the tragedy of this election. The times may be progressing, but Taiwan's democracy is regressing.
Sixteen years have elapsed. So why have the voters' options become increasingly limited? One reason is the rapid depletion of intellectual elites. During Chen Shui-bian's eight years in power, the DPP's middle-aged leadership was virtually decimated. No one close to Chen was spared. As a result, two consecutive DPP presidential candidates had little connection to the DPP. Tsai Ing-wen's political qualifications were meager. A similar situation prevailed within the KMT. During Ma Ying-jeou's eight years in office, the party failed to cultivate a new generation of leaders. Cabinet ministers were recruited with excessive reliance on academic credentials. The party lost cohesion and imploded.
The rise of populism has made politics risky business. Political candidates must endure examination under a microscope. Their poiicy proposals, policy implementation, even their family members must endure irrational attacks. Many of those who contemplate a career in politics are deterred by irrational criticism. The harsh political environment naturally makes it difficult to attract qualified candidates.
Who will win the 2016 general election? A better question might be "Why has Taiwan's democracy regressed?"