Mon, Mar 11, 2002 - Page 8 News List

DPP at a crossroads over party chair post

By Chen Sung-shan 陳淞山

The DPP's party affairs reform group recently agreed that Tai-wan's head of state should assume the party chairmanship when the party is in power and that the chairman must be directly elected by the membership otherwise. If this proposal is approved at the DPP's national meeting, it impact the party's development and its relations with the Cabinet will be profound.

Party reforms have long been a controversial issue within the DPP. The party's leaders are aware that the idea of having the head of state simultaneously lead the party is not a panacea for party reforms. The move could give rise to abuse and manipulation. For instance, the president's actions and words could then be restrained by the Central Standing Committee -- a result that would limit the his freedom of policy-making. The president would also have to shoulder the party's imperfections.

Will the Cabinet turn out to be led by the party, an improper practice from the KMT era? Will important government policies have to be reviewed by the Central Standing Committee? Will the public criticize President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) for breaking his campaign promise if he takes over as the chairman? Will the party be criticized for backtracking on policy, considering that it demanded that Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) resign as chairman of the KMT when he was president?

Moreover, be it in power or in opposition, the DPP has always lacked the power to constrain its legislative caucus. Now, due to the difficulty of fielding chairman candidates -- and the DPP's dysfunctional relations with the Cabinet -- it is advocating further integration between the party and the government -- turning itself into an "internally-created party." This will lead to the unification of the central party leadership and the legislative caucus. The DPP even intends to have Chen lead the party and stand in the forefront to face violent attacks from opposition parties. Serious thought should be given to the pros and cons of the proposal.

The DPP's factional politics are not appropriate for political integration and the policy-making of a ruling party. The failure to prepare for the task of governing the country when the DPP moved from an opposition party into a ruling one, has resulted in the government drifting away from its party headquarters.

In particular, when the posts of the DPP's chairman and Central Standing Committee members are mostly taken by lawmakers or local political leaders, such a situation will surely impede the functioning of the government. In addition, the nine-person task force of high-ranking DPP members from the Presidential Office and the Cabinet has yet to create a blueprint for the crucial process of political integration. Therefore, the crux of the matter lies in how to incorporate the party's policy-making mechanism in important government agencies. Whether the president should simultaneously lead the party is the crucial question.

To make long-term preparations for the DPP's governance, the structure of an "internally created party" must be built up, so that the president leads the party and the Cabinet appoints ministers and heads of other government agencies to serve as Central Standing Committee members. This is an inevitable stage in the DPP's transformation, as well as a necessary means to integrate policy-making systems and political maneuvering between the party and the Cabinet. Chen must lead the DPP to make the significant structural adjustments.

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