DPP Chairmanship Struggle: The Real Problem
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
April 16, 2012
Summary: More candidates are seeking the Democratic Progressive Party chairmanship than at any other time in the party's history. Taiwan independence hardliners and Hsu Hsing-liang, who advocates "boldly going west," have long been polar opposites. But both understand the DPP. Both agree on one thing. They must prevent Su Tseng-chang from becoming the party chairman. If they cannot stop Su Tseng-chang from becoming the party chairman, they must at least rein him in. They must prevent Su from gathering strength before the 2016 general election and running for president.
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More candidates are seeking the Democratic Progressive Party chairmanship than at any other time in the party's history. Taiwan independence hardliners and Hsu Hsing-liang, who advocates "boldly going west," have long been polar opposites. But both understand the DPP. Both agree on one thing. They must prevent Su Tseng-chang from becoming the party chairman. If they cannot stop Su Tseng-chang from becoming the party chairman, they must at least rein him in. They must prevent Su from gathering strength before the 2016 general election and running for president.
This is the first party chairman election since the DPP was defeated in the presidential election. Tsai Ing-wen has no intention of seeking another term. According to party regulations, she has already succeeded herself. She cannot run again. In principle, Su Tseng-chang is the leader of another powerful faction within the party. Not everyone welcomes him as party chairman. But for him to become party chairman would be entirely reasonable. Yet opposition within the party is building. Attempts are being made to purge leaders with certain ideological positions and political paths, as are attempts to settle scores with rival factions.
Taiwan independence hardliners within the DPP are openly opposed to Su Tseng-chang. Without naming names, legislator Chen Tang-shan mocked Su. He said "If a candidate for President or Vice President is unelectable, he should give up. He should stop running." Former DPP chairman Yao Chia-wen openly criticized Su. He said "We do not think Su is sufficiently Taiwan-centric and Taiwan independence oriented." Others even urged Wu Rong-i and Trong Chai, two Taiwan independence hardliners, to join forces. That would prevent Su Tseng-chang from taking advantage of a split vote among Taiwan independence hardliners.
The Taiwan independence hardliners are at least up front about their opposition. They have wounded Su Tseng-chang. But the wound is merely a flesh wound. What could really cost Su the election is factional strife. This includes strife between the New Tide Faction and its opponents, and strife between Su and Hsieh. More important of all is the contest for the 2016 presidential nomination. The presidential election has just concluded. But inside the DPP, many argue that Tsai Ing-wen remains the DPP's best choice for 2016. Whoever becomes the next party chairman should not use the office to run for president. He should concentrate on party affairs. Hsu Hsin-liang is running for party chairman. But Hsu has made clear he is doing it "in order to support another presidential bid by Tsai Ing-wen in 2016." Tsai Ing-wen demurred, saying these were Hsu Hsin-liang's own views. But it probably represents the thinking of many party members.
Taiwan independence hardliners have considerable influence within the DPP. But they have yet to find a spokesperson of adequate stature within the party. For the time being, Su Tseng-chang need not worry. By contrast, factional strife has simmered for years. It remains difficult to resolve. Little wonder Su Tseng-chang rushed to the Taipei Detention Center last week to visit Chen Shui-bian. He hoped to moderate the backlash from Taiwan independence hardliners.
A pardon for Ah-Bian is one of the Taiwan independence hardliners' key demands. Su Tseng-chang may be forced to compromise. The Taiwan independence hardliners demand the founding of an independent nation. They demand "one nation on each side." Is Su Tseng-chang willing to accept such terms? For the Democratic Progressive Party, the 2012 presidential election was a baptism by fire. They finally understand. They finally realize their cross-Strait policy is their Achilles Heel. They finally realize it is the reason the party has been unable to win the presidency. The DPP must review its cross-Strait policy. This is the first party chairman election since the presidential election. If the debate between the candidates is over whether the Mainland is an enemy, then the party will be turning the clock back. It will be moving farther and farther away from a return to power.
From this perspective, Hsu Hsin-liang's candidacy has strategic significance. There is little chance he will be elected. But that does not mean his candidacy is without strategic significance, He can at least influence the agenda. He can make his political views heard. He can refocus the party chairman election on real issues, and not on historical grievances that can never be resolved. Taiwan is currently undergoing industrial restructuring. It is suffering from a brain drain and other pressing problems. When confronted with such problems, isolation is never an option. Besides, DPP leaders learned from the 2012 election that they must offer a pragmatic and reasonable cross-Strait policy, They cannot muddle their way through. Otherwise Washington, Beijing, and swing voters on Taiwan will never give the DPP a vote of confidence.
The next two years are critical for the DPP party chairman. He or she will lead the DPP in the 2014 Seven in One Election. No elections are scheduled for the next two years. The DPP must take advantage of this opportunity to transform itself and change its cross-Strait policy path. This is the Democratic Progressive Party's top priority. But those who understand politics know that anyone with presidential ambitions must not commit prematurely. Otherwise they will be embroiled in disputes over the party's future. They will invite problems prematurely. These problems obviously do not concern Su Tseng-chang.
Su Tseng-chang has garnered the most attention during the election, He has never relinquished his ambition to run for president. He is also among the DPP favorites for 2016. But Su Tseng-chang and Tsai Ing-wen, his most formidable rival within the party, have hedged their bets on cross-Strait policy. When Su Tseng-chang registered as a candidate for party chairman, he declared that the DPP must "replace [cross-Strait] confrontation with dialogue" and that "the two sides must coexist and prosper together]. But he too proposed a "Taiwan Consensus" just as vague as Tsai Ing-wen's.
Su Tseng-chang as an individual, and the DPP as a party, are undergoing crises. If Su Tseng-chang caves in to the Taiwan independence hardliners in order to win the party chairmanship, the Democratic Progressive Party will squander this two year opportunity to transform itself. Su Tseng-chang as an individual will be unable to win over swing voters. He can forget about winning the presidency. Su Tseng-chang must strike a balance between Taiwan independence hardliners and swing voters. He must offer a pragmatic cross-Strait policy, This is also the key to winning the DPP party chairmanship.