Local Elections in the North and South
A Preview of the Presidential Election?
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
April 2, 2009
Tsai Ing-wen appears to have found the political lever she needs. Su Tseng-chang's campaign for Taipei County Commissioner will be the engine that allows the Democratic Progressive Party to make a comeback. The nomination of Li Chun-yi for Tainan County Commissioner, and rejection of Chen Tang-shan, will be the big move that draws a line in the sand between the DPP and Ah-Bian.
Chen Tang-shan is seen as Chen Shui-bian's proxy. Chen Tang-shan sees himself as Chen Shui-bian's proxy. Therefore the nomination of Chen Tang-shan has become the acid test for whether Tsai Ing-wen can get Chen Shui-bian off her back. Chen Tang-shan enjoys a wide lead in the polls. Yet Tsai Ing-wen has nominated Li Chun-yi. She runs the risk that Chen Shui-bian may enter the Legislative by-election. Her decision means she has steeled her nerves. No wonder Tainan County Legislator Wang Hsing-nan says "The DPP will be officially divided."
Su Tseng-chang is expected to run for Taipei County Commissioner. This probably motivated Tsai Ing-wen to reject Chen Tang-shan. Hopes that the DPP can make a comeback in Taipei County, and distance itself from Ah-Bian in Tainan County, have suddenly provided her with a lever and a clarion call. This may provide the Democratic Progressive Party with the strategic framework for its campaigns in the year end County and Municipal Elections. Their political calculus is that distancing the party from Ah-Bian will help the DPP make a successful comeback, and conversely, making a successful comeback will help the DPP distance itself from Ah-Bian.
By contrast, the KMT finds itself on the horns of a dilemma, in both Taipei County and Tainan County. Chou Hsi-wei in Taipei County is no longer politically viable, but cannot be persuaded to withdraw. As for Tainan County, if Chen Tang-shan and Li Chun-yi engage in a mutually-destructive duel to the death, the KMT may reap the rewards. But the KMT lacks a candidate in Tainan County able to take advantage of the opportunity. The KMT fears it will lose in Taipei County. The KMT fears it can't win in Tainan County. If it watches idly as it loses in Taipei County and fails to win in Tainan County, the Democratic Progressive Party's leverage in both the North and the South will break the KMT's hold on the larger scenario. The consequences of such a strategic reversal of fortune could be disastrous.
The Battle over Taipei County will be a preliminary skirmish in the Battle for the 2012 Presidency. Add to this the impact of the Tainan County Commissioner Election. Tsai Ing-wen is hoping for a succession of victories, beginning with Su Tseng-chang winning the Taipei County Election, successfully distancing the DPP from Ah-bian, and finally, regaining the Presidency in 2012. By contrast, the KMT's strategic objective must be to disrupt any such chain of victories. Su Tseng-chang must not be allowed to win Taipei County. The DPP must not be allowed to regroup. The DPP must not be allowed to launch its campaign for the Presidency in advance of 2012. If the KMT cannot defeat the DPP's strategy, the consequences will be disastrous.
The current scenario is the result of Tsai Ing-wen's willingness to face down Chen Tang-shan despite his high poll numbers. She is doing so to establish her authority within the party, and to assert her right to set the party's agenda. Conversely, the KMT can neither boost Chou Hsi-wei's dismal prospects, nor persuade him to withdraw from the race. It has lost its leadership status. and needless to say, its ability to set the party's agenda.
The County Commissioner and City Mayor Elections have been elevated to the status of preliminary skirmishs to the 2012 presidential election. The Tainan County Election has become an indicator of whether the DPP can distance itself from Ah-Bian. Therefore the DPP and the KMT are under pressure to win at all cost. For Tsai Ing-wen, Taipei County must be won. Only then can the DPP obtain a powerful political engine. The function of the Tainan County Election meanwhile, is merely to deny the KMT the opportunity to disrupt the DPP's political momentum. It is also an opportunity to draw a line in sand between the DPP and Ah-Bian. In doing so, it must not split the DPP. Conversely, if the Democratic Progressive Party loses Taipei County and Tainan County, Tsai Ing-wen will suffer a crushing defeat. The Democratic Progressive Party will be plunged into even greater crisis. By contrast, if Ma Ying-jeou loses Taipei County, the Democratic Progressive Party will launch its 2012 presidential campaign in advance, and the political scene will have no peace.
If the DPP begins its 2012 presidential campaign with the County Commissioner and City Mayor Elections, the political scene on Taiwan will become even more chaotic. For the KMT, increased social unrest will make governing the nation even more difficult. For the DPP, it has yet to sort out its position on the nation's identity and cross-Strait policy. If it touches off a battle for the 2012 presidency under such circumstances, it will have a difficult time transitioning from its current internal "balance of terror." Even assuming it succeeds, it may not be able to bolster the strength of the Democratic Progressive Party. It may not be able to improve Taiwan's plight.
Compare Ma Ying-jeou to Tsai Ing-wen. Tsai can nominate Su Tseng-chang in Taipei County. She can force Chen Tang-shan to withdraw in Tainan County. She has demonstrated that she can maintain party discipline. She can maintain the initiative. She can set the agenda, and put the ball in Ma Ying-jeou's court. By contrast, Ma Ying-jeou cannot deal with Chou Hsi-wei. He cannot deal with Tainan County. He watches idly as Tsai Ing-wen lobs the ball into his court. Surely he isn't going to stand there doing nothing as the ball caroms all over the court?
Whether the 2012 presidential election is moved up or not, the Taipei County and Tainan County Commissioner Elections will be watershed moments.
2009.04.02 04:50 am