Tsai Ing-wen Chooses Evasiveness
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
December 5, 2011
Summary: How well did the three presidential candidates do in their first election debate? Different media polls show different results. Tsai Ing-wen's attitude during the debate gave people the impression she was reaching out only to her fans. She was not interested in reaching out to swing voters. Her performance during the debate was premeditated. She adopted an evasive attitude. Her evasiveness was intentional.
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How well did the three presidential candidates do in their first election debate? Different media polls show different results. Outsiders however agree. Ma Ying-jeou made a strong case for himself, but overall the debate came across as lukewarm. Why did the debate lack spark, in spite of Ma Ying-jeou's strong performance? This is very baffling.
Perhaps it was because supporters of the three candidates differed over how their own candidate performed. But this was the first time the three candidates found themselves in the same place since they registered. Each candidate presented his or her platform. Each cross-examined the other two candidates. The public naturally hoped each of the candidates would explain how they stood on important issues. After all, this is a presidential candidate's responsibility. But people were surprised that Tsai Ing-wen evaded every major issue, including cross-Strait policy, two dollar persimmons, and whether she would pardon Chen Shui-bian.
Tsai Ing-wen's evasiveness provoked an uproar. Tsai and her staffers must have known her opponents would not let her off lightly. When Tsai Ing-wen and her staffers practiced for the debate, she must have known these questions would be asked. They must have run simulations. They must prepared their answers. Yet Tsai Ing-wen chose to dodge every one of them. She must have known that her evasiveness would alienate rational, moderate voters. Nevertheless this is the way Tsai Ing-wen decided to go.
Candidates and their political parties are well aware that given Blue vs. Green political divisions on Taiwan, most voters have firmly held political stances. Their support for their candidate is unlikely to be shaken by the outcome of a political debate. These voters decided whom to vote for long ago. What the candidates say during the debate is not terribly important to them. Therefore, the three presidential candidates' goal during the debate is to influence swing voters who "want to discover just exactly what the candidates' positions are."
The China Times polled registered voters who intend to go to the polls. Among them, 64% watched this debate. The number of viewers was impressive. The poll numbers for the Two Yings are extremely close. Therefore every vote counts. No candidate has any reason to forsake this opportunity to influence swing voters. James Soong stressed the need to look after the "three middles/mediums." Soong was referring to: the middle class; small and medium enterprises and lower and middle income households, and of course, middle of the road voters. Ma Ying-jeou cares about economic issues. He has been honest enough to admit he did not do enough during his three years in office. He reiterated his determination to work harder and do better. Ma Ying-jeou apparently knows that one cannot gloss over poor performance. It will not work. Voters are realistic. Therefore they will not tolerate it. Debates invariably include self-promotion. But Ma Ying-jeou has chosen to acknowledge that in some areas, he failed to do a good job and therefore owed everyone an apology.
By contrast, Tsai Ing-wen seems to care little about influencing swing voters. Many people are concerned about whether she will pardon Chen Shui-bian if elected. Tsai Ing-wen is clearly unwilling to answer this question. Instead, she implied that Chen's conviction was a miscarriage of justice. She implied that upon taking office she would consider retrying the Chen corruption case. She implied that she would grant Chen a pardon. Chen Shui-bian's corruption is well established. Tsai Ing-wen's attitude is disturbing. She is even sweeping Su Jia-Chyuan's luxury "farmhouse" scandal under the rug. Swing voters care about social justice. Tsai's behavior could cost her dearly. Do she and her staffers not know this?
Before the debate Tsai Ing-wen apologized for the two dollar persimmons controversy. But her attitude was unrepentant, people deeped her apology insincere. Sure enough during the debate Tsai Ing-wen made her attitude clear. She said that the DPP did not commit any real mistakes, and that she apologized not because the DPP did anything wrong, but only because she wanted to end the war of words. The fact remains that the fruit calendar was DPP propaganda. This was not something brought up by the KMT. Therefore the Green Camp was responsible for the war of words, not the Blue. Besides, the fruit price controversy was pure fabrication. It led to financial losses for many farmers. Tsai Ing-wen spun herself as the self-sacrificing mother in the Judgment of Solomon. The least she can do is acknowledge that although "I did not kill Bayen, Bayen died because of me." Since she has yet to engage in earnest soul-searching, how can her expression of regret be heartfelt and sincere?
On the eve of the debate, Tsai Ing-wen hurriedly raised cross-Strait issues. As a result, many anticipated a breakthrough in her thinking. But during the debate Tsai Ing-wen offered no fresh ideas. She merely played the same tune louder than before. The press conference she held the night before faded away like a dream.
Tsai Ing-wen's attitude during the debate gave people the impression she was reaching out only to her fans. She was not interested in reaching out to swing voters. Her performance during the debate was premeditated. She adopted an evasive attitude. Her evasiveness was intentional.