Tue, Oct 30, 2001 - Page 8 News List

DPP shuffling toward the center

By Joseph Wu 吳釗燮

Amid both fierce debate over the APEC summit and pre-election fever, the ruling DPP quietly held its national congress in Kaohsiung on Oct. 20. There it engaged in the most vigorous clarification of the party line since the DPP charter was amended on Oct. 31, 1991.

Article One of the DPP charter calls for a "sovereign and independent Republic of Taiwan." At the 1991 national congress, through a push by some of the DPP's more pragmatic members, this article was amended to read: "Based on the fundamental rights of the people, the establishment of a sovereign Taiwan Republic and the formation of a new constitution shall be determined by all citizens of Taiwan through a national referendum."

Clearly, "referendum" is a necessary step in the establishment of a Republic of Taiwan. Though many people use neutral language to refer to this article in the DPP charter, calling it the "referendum clause" (公黨鋼), this article is still widely regarded as the "Taiwan independence clause" (台獨黨綱) because of the DPP's basic platform.

In the 1990s, the "Taiwan independence clause" consolidated the pro-independence vote during elections. But as the DPP's ambition to become the ruling party grew, most of the party elite discovered that the unification-independence spectrum had become more evenly split. In fact, the "Taiwan independence clause" had become a curse threatening the DPP's efforts to cross the political threshold.

After 1995, the clause gradually became a decorative ornament as successive party chairpersons proclaimed that, "Even if the DPP takes power, it will not declare independence." Amending the platform also became a headache at every DPP national congress.

"Taiwan independence," however, had been the DPP's totem since its establishment in 1986. To many DPP supporters who viewed their hope for Taiwan independence as the only issue that mattered to them, scrapping the "Taiwan independence clause" was tantamount to destroying the party's soul. To preserve the article as a keepsake on the one hand, and to make substantial amendments to the platform that would pave the way for the DPP's accession to power on the other hand, the national congress passed on May 8, 1999 -- rather creatively -- a resolution regarding Taiwan's future.

This resolution clearly stated: "Taiwan is a sovereign and independent country. Any change in the independent status quo must be decided by all the residents of Taiwan by means of a plebiscite." This significant amendment caused the DPP to move towards the political center. It also formed the basis for the DPP's China policy white paper, and for the "New Middle Way" line in last year's presidential campaign.

The DPP used these changes to inform the world that it had already become a political party committed to maintaining the status quo, and that the "Taiwan independence clause" existed in name only. Even so, because the platform was still held in such an exalted position, the DPP's "New Middle Way" was still called into question by other political parties, business circles, China and the international community during the presidential election.

Actually, the cross-strait policies of Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) government have been more open and more friendly towards China than even the KMT's had been. But that, apparently, has not paid dividends for the party, with everyone quickly reverting to viewing the DPP with anxiety vis-a-vis the independence issue. Many businessmen and economics scholars felt strongly that the TAIEX would not see any gains until the DPP scrapped the "Taiwan independence clause." The status and responsibilities of a ruling party are vastly different from those of an opposition party. The DPP was clearly left with little choice.

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