Thursday, January 27, 2011

Will a Nationwide Poll Really Help the DPP Move Toward the Center?

Will a Nationwide Poll Really Help the DPP Move Toward the Center?
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
January 27, 2011

The curtain has just rung down on the Democratic Progressive Party's Plenary Session. It approved the use of a nationwide poll to determine the party's candidates for president and regional legislators. This highlights once again the DPP's distinctive brand of "democratic centralism." The real decision-making power remains in the hands of factional heads and the party nomenklatura. This sort of "joint factional rule" can control how the party goes about reforming its primary process. But can it help the DPP set forth a compelling cross-Strait policy platform? Can it help it to move toward the center? That is the really big question.
Party members who supported a nationwide poll, fought party members who wanted nominees to be chosen by party members exclusively. The result during the DPP's plenary session was a tempest in a teapot. The so-called "party members only faction" was eventually defeated. This was not surprising. Change within the DPP has never been from the bottom up. When Chen Shui-bian ran for president, he adopted his "new centrist path." Later, the party adopted its "Resolution on Taiwan's Future." All these changes were initiated from the top down. The recent intraparty elections made major changes to the party's primary process. These too were the result of joint factional rule. Annette Lu found herself isolated within the party. She waved the banner of democracy within the party. But in the end she was unable to overcome a consensus reached by the factions.

People have joked that the DPP was founded 20 years ago, but has since adopted at least 20 methods for candidate nomination during its party primaries. The method is changed every time an election rolls around, During its early years, party cadres would conduct candidate evaluations. These candidate evaluations would be used in conjuction with party member balloting. Later, party member votes and opinion polls would be weighted equally. At one time they were weighted 30/70. At another time Deep Green votes were weighted more heavily. That was the case when the "Blue Excluded Opinion Polls" were used. Today, it is using a nationwide poll. The methods for candidate selection keep changing. But in fact there is only one problem that must be solved, and that is the problem with "phantom party members."

Major players and factions within the DPP have long maintained hordes of phantom party members. These phantom party members infested the 2008 legislative elections. Many candidates adopted a centrist path. First they had to get past the major players. They then had to get past the "Blues excluded opinion poll." After negotiating these two gauntlets, most centrist oriented candidates were either dead or hanging by a thread. The result was an election debacle. It almost destroyed the younger generation of Democratic Progressive Party officials. They had to rebuild amidst the ruins.

Given this history, the Democratic Progressive Party leadership long ago rejected the possibility of a primary process in which candidates are determined exclusively by party member ballots. But a final factor persuaded the various factions within the party to accept a nationwide poll. Party leaders issued repeated warnings. If prosecutors were to take advantage of the party primaries to launch an investigation into phantom party members, the DPP would lose the election, even before it was held.

Concern over this issue is the greatest in the DPP's legislators without portfolio nominations. Legislators without portfolio represent a political party. They cannot be nominated in the same way as a party's presidential or regional legislative candidates, by relying on nationwide polls. But if party member balloting plays any part in their selection, phantom voters may appear out of the woodwork, or vote buying may rear its ugly head. The DPP Central Executive Committee eventually reached a majority decision. All legislators without portfolio would be nominated by a nominating committee. On the surface the party chairman expanded his or her power. In fact future candidatesfor legislator without portfolio will require the support of two-thirds of the members of the Central Executive Committee. This means that any nominations will be the result of a compromise between various factions. They will be the product of joint factional rule. Even the party chairman will not be able to control this process.

Phantom party members remain a concern. But the nationwide poll approach for primary nominations is a major change. Why did the factions and party members agree to relinquish power? Because everyone in the Democratic Progressive Party, from top to bottom, is determined to win. That is why they are willing to incorporate a nationwide poll that includes the opinions of swing voters. This raises another question. The entire Democratic Progressive Party is pinning its hopes on the so-called nationwide poll. Can the nationwide poll really persuade the DPP to adopt a more centrist path?

The actual situation suggests otherwise. The nationwide poll approach for the primary nomination processs has just been passed. Ker Chien-min is the Chairman of the DPP legislative caucus. He said that the most important thing during the 2012 election is to "avoid infighting." Therefore all nominations should avoid the primaries. Based on this logic, although the presidential candidate is supposed to be determined by a nationwide poll, the party "must nevertheless avoid a nationwide poll!"

On the surface, this addresses the issue of residual infighting from 2008. But at a deeper level, it addresses the issue of how to incorporate the Republic of China into the system. The DPP is still unclear about how to create a stable framework for cross-Strait relations. Therefore it cannot withstand intraparty debates during the party primaries. The party leadership even lacks confidence in the nationwide poll. It cannot believe that debating the facts could help the truth come to light.

The changes to the primary nomination process are important. But consider the experience of the British Labour Party. The system must be changed. Political leaders must offer a viable political platform. They must offer thoughful policies. Only then can win voter confidence. Therefore, if the DPP wishes to return to power, a nationwide poll is merely the first step. Everyone is still waiting for Tsai Ing-wen's Platform for the Coming Decade.

2011-01-27 中國時報











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