Candidates Return to Policy Debate
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
September 6, 2011
Summary: The general election is four and a half months away. The current policy struggle between the Two Yings is considered an essential part of the presidential race. Partisan mobilization is the factor most likely to influence the outcome of the election. The closer we come to election day, the more likely partisan mobilization, even ideological confrontation is likely to begin. But given the Two Yings personal and political character, we remain optimistic. The Two Yings have the ability to adhere to policy debate, in which case politics on Taiwan may enter a new phase.
Full Text below:
In the media age, visual and auditory impact is everything. Straightforward policy debate attracts scant attention. But political leaders are not show people or talking heads. It is not their job to entertain the public by staging media events or by slinging mud.
Pressures are mounting in the presidential election. The KMT presidential candidate is Ma Ying-jeou. The DPP candidate is Tsai Ing-wen. Ma refers to his platform as the "Golden Decade." Tsai calls hers the "Platform for the Coming Decade." When referring to rival platforms, supporters use virtually identical language. They say the rival candidate's platform is "full of flowery words and empty rhetoric." Conversely, when referring to their own candidate's platform, they say he or she has "the ability to implement his or her vision for the nation." To their credit, the Two Yings have published their platforms, leaving them open to public scrutiny.
Ma Ying-jeou's "Golden Decade" and Tsai Ing-wen's "Platform for the Coming Decade" have ensured a comparatively normal presidential campaign. The upcoming presidential debate already has substantive issues to take on. Past election campaigns were "saliva wars." Candidates slung mud indiscriminately. They were lively affairs. But the public soon wearied. At the very least, the Two Yings have set a commendable precedent for future campaigns.
Ma Ying-jeou is the incumbent. Tsai Ing-wen is the challenger. Their positions are different. But both are political leaders. Both must offer a direction for the nation's future. Tsai Ing-wen has launched her "Platform for the Decade." It has been criticized for being full of "pretty but empty rhetoric." But she is at least making an effort to persuade people who do not support her. So far, her platform is no more than an outline. It will be followed by a more detailed White Paper, which will be subject to even closer scrutiny. Contrast this with 2008. Ma Ying-jeou published his White Paper. But DPP candidate Frank Hsieh assiduously ignored it, Instead, Hsieh harped on the Green Card non-issue. He resorted to all manner of negative campaigning. No substantive policy debate took place. Tsai Ing-wen deserves credit for insisting on a campaign rooted in rational debate.
The DPP is the opposition party. Not surprisingly, its "Platform for the Decade" is deliberately vague. After all, if one is in the opposition, one need assume no responsibility for day to day governance. But the DPP was in office for eight years. Excessive policy vagueness inevitably invites criticism. Does the DPP really not understand this? Have three years in the political wilderness induced amnesia? Has the DPP become so emotionally removed from policy implementation?
The KMT is the ruling party. Ma Ying-jeou has published his "Golden Decade" platform. He faces even harsher scrutiny than Tsai. Critics may not bother to characterize his platform as "full of pretty rhetoric." The reason is simple. Ma is already in a position of power. His policies must be implemented here and now. He must demonstrate a capacity for real world governance. From a management perspective the easiest way to make one's case is to cite numbers. Alas, numbers are the least effective way to win voters' hearts and minds.
The "Golden Decade" platform implies that administration policies have already been implemented, or about to be implemented. It implies that the ruling administration is capable of implementing its vision for the nation over the coming decade. Unnamed senior officials in the Ma administration have revealed that "There will be no earth-shattering announcements. Merely the continuation of existing policies." The Ma administration is confident its platform is more worthwhile and substantive than the DPP's.
Does the "Golden Decade" platform contain anything of substance? The public will decide. Public opinion is rooted more in perception than in numbers. The Ma administration's performance may be interpreted very differently by different parties. The Ma administration's record on taxation, fiscal policy, 12-year national education, and industrial policy may be perceived as either good or bad, depending upon whom one asks. At best, the "Golden Decade" will win the approval of a majority.
The "Golden Decade," and the "Platform for the Coming Decade" each have their own appeal. Regardless, the Two Yings are serious about their bid for high office. They have returned to the issues. People First Party Chairman James Soong has recently been the focus of public attention. Soong, by contrast, has yet to make his case. He is still waffling about whether to run. He is maintaining campaign momentum by raising hot button issues and staging photo ops. He clearly suspects he will lose. His glory days as provincial governor are hardly a topic for policy debate. After all, the public has far higher expectations from a national leader than a local leader.
Blue vs. Green polarization on Taiwan remains intense. Will policy debate be the deciding factor in the presidential race? That remains to be seen, The public is concerned about the direction politics has taken. Most people know what they love and hate, They evaluate the candidate's words and deeds based on it. But mob passions and partisan confrontation eventually lead to burnout. More and more people are indifferent to Blue vs. Green political confrontation. This is especially true among so-called "swing voters." More and more they demand practical, rational, policy debate. Only when the candidates return to debating policy, will democracy on Taiwan truly mature.
The general election is four and a half months away. The current policy struggle between the Two Yings is considered an essential part of the presidential race. Partisan mobilization is the factor most likely to influence the outcome of the election. The closer we come to election day, the more likely partisan mobilization, even ideological confrontation is likely to begin. But given the Two Yings personal and political character, we remain optimistic. The Two Yings have the ability to adhere to policy debate, in which case politics on Taiwan may enter a new phase.