Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Where is the DPP's Platform for the Five Cities Elections?

Where is the DPP's Platform for the Five Cities Elections?China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
August 25, 2010

In its campaign for the Five Cities Elections, KMT leaders have chosen to play the ECFA card. DPP Chairman Tsai Ing-wen, who is also the DPP candidate for Xinbei City mayor, lashed out at them. "Once again, they are wrong!" Tsai Ing-wen argued that the Five Cities Elections are merely local elections. Only when the presidential and legislative by-elections roll around, will cross-Strait and foreign affairs become important. Tsai Ing-wen is partly right, and partly wrong. Regardless, neither the DPP nor the KMT have offered a coherent platform for the Five Cities Elections. As a result, the campaigns have lost their focus. They have become name-calling contests, in which neither side listens to the other. Voters are left with no basis on which to cast their votes -- no political platform, no policy prescription, and no political record.

In one sense, Tsai Ing-wen is correct. The Five Cities Elections are not central government elections. They need not address central government issues. But in another sense, Tsai Ing-wen is wrong. From day one, the Five Cities Elections have not been local elections. Every candidate for the Five Cities Elections is a "Party Prince." Whoever emerges victorious from these elections will be the Blue and Green Camp's rising stars. Even those who are defeated, may be able to run for president in 2012. That is why the candidates are sparing no effort or expense to run.

Tsai Ing-wen is right in another sense. Cross-Strait and foreign issues are usually relevant only during presidential and legislative elections. Basically they should never have been raised during the Five Cities Election campaign. But Tsai Ing-wen is wrong in another sense. The Five Cities Elections are simply too important. The five cities are too populous. Their areas are too large. Their outcome of the Five Cities Elections is sure to affect the political strength of the Blue and Green camps. Most importantly, the Five Cities Elections cannot be compared to past county and municipal elections. Anyone who emerges victorious from them will be assured a place in the pantheon of power. Taipei, Xinbei City, and Kaohsiung City became essential stepping stones to the presidency during the last three presidential elections. Naturally, both ruling and opposition party candidates must answer for their own policy proposals.

Tsai Ing-wen's opponent is KMT nominee Chu Li-lun. In an interview with this newspaper, Chu cited some numbers that demonstrated the revelance of ECFA for local politics. Chu noted that Xinbei City was the beneficiary of a 35 billion NT increase in annual trade, and 13,000 additional job opportunities. The other four cities have also benefitted significantly from ECFA. That is why all three Kaohsiung mayoral candidates, Blue and Green alike, have expressed total or conditional support for ECFA.

Such expressions of support are an embarrassment for Tsai Ing-wen. After all, she is DPP Chairman. Article One in the DPP's literature for the Five Cities Election campaign is opposition to ECFA. The DPP's stand on ECFA has changed constantly. The DPP has gone from opposing ECFA to ignoring ECFA to demanding a referendum on ECFA. It has gone from instigating strident protests to beating a quiet retreat. The DPP's strategy is clear. Before July, ECFA was its main battlefield. After August, it withdrew from this battlefield. Before the third reading of ECFA, the DPP pummeled the KMT, relentlessly. The KMT is hardly about to let the DPP set the agenda and tempo of the election. The DPP waffled on ECFA. It was irresolute on cross-Strait policy. Of course the KMT is going to hit the DPP over the head with ECFA. Of course it will remind the public what the DPP's eight year long Closed Door Policy did to the nation.

In short, whether to bring up ECFA is a matter of election strategy. The Blue and Green camps each have their own game plan. Each plan has its own pros and its cons. For the moment it is hard to say which is better. The tempo of life on Taiwan is fast. Public opinion shifts rapidly. The moment ECFA underwent its third reading, the debate should have ended. The case should have been closed. Since the DPP no longer wishes to fight this on this battlefield, it must find a new battlefield. Fortunately for the DPP, it is an opposition party. It can address whatever topic it prefers. It can harp on the president's governing ability. It can question the cabinet's accomplishments. It can cast doubt on its opponent's qualifications and experience. Every one of these can become the target of its campaign rhetoric.

Every election ploy has weaknesses as well as strengths. For example, the Tsai Ing-wen campaign accused Chu LI-lun of leaving behind a deficit far larger than any previous Taoyuan County Chief. His debt allegedly approached the debt limit, and made it "nearly impossible" for his successor to "hammer out a budget." This is certainly a matter of public policy worth discussing. Xinbei City is not alone. The other four cities face similar situations. Over the twenty years since political liberalization, "construction loans" to local governments have become central government routine. Chu Li-lun admits leaving Taoyuan County with over 15 billion NT in debt. But during his eight years in office, the wealth in county coffers increased by more than 220 billion NT. The debt was purely for construction. Construction attracted financial resources. The public is hardly going to object.

The same was true for Su Tseng-chang, DPP candidate for mayor of Taipei. Su Tseng-chang was Taipei County Chief for eight years. He left behind hundreds of billions in debt. But Taipei County residents remain impressed. They consider Su Tseng-tsang a capable county chief who promoted local development. The Tsai Ing-wen campaign fired a shot. Alas, it failed to strike its target. If anything, many DPP officials with local government experience are shaking their heads, wondering how to respond.

No one likes negative campaigning. But in order to elect officials of integrity and ability, the candidates' records must be subjected to public scrutiny. Only then can the candidates win voter support. The candidates' records must be subjected to review, criticism, and suspicion. When interviewed by the media, Chu Li-lun offered a new framework for Xinbei City development. Does the DPP wish to wage a positive campaign? If so, rather than cast suspicion on the ability of its rival to set the agenda, it ought to offer its own policy blueprint.

中時電子報 新聞
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