Thu, Nov 25, 2004 - Page 8 News List

President directing the election agenda

By Liu Kuan-teh劉冠德

The key to winning an election lies in framing the debate, setting the agenda, moving aggressively and striking the final blow. In most cases, a ruling government is put on the defensive, with opposition forces often taking the initiative to pull the legs out from under the incumbent administration.

Ironically, Taiwan's upcoming legislative elections seem to feature a series of aggressive campaigns launched by President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which are putting the pan-blue alliance in a weaker and more defensive position.

By labeling the week-long anti-government protest led by the pan-blue camp after the March 20 presidential election an "abortive soft coup," the president ignited campaign debate and drew everyone's attention to the alleged attempted conspiracy by some retired military generals against the DPP president.

Chen reminded voters of the dangerous situation created when Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Lien Chan (連戰) and People First Party (PFP) Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) refused to accept the results of the election and encouraged their pan-blue supporters to take to the streets in an extremely radical way. Chen intended to frame the election debate as a choice between "letting the DPP government do a better job" and "continued political chaos resulting from the pan-blue camp's unconstructive role."

Then Chen upheld the doctrine of separating the state from the nation, and accused the KMT of intentionally confusing the party emblem with the Republic of China's (ROC's) national emblem on the flag. The notion of a party-state was the KMT's Achilles heel and has long been a major campaign target. Despite an emotional response, no concrete efforts have been made by the KMT to clarify the accusation.

In the first two weeks of campaign maneuvering, not only has Chen successfully put pan-blue forces on the defensive, he has also controlled the tempo of the campaign and framed the issues on which voters make a decision.

The object of a campaign is not merely to answer all of the opponents' attacks; it's to make opponents go crazy trying to answer all of the attacks. Obviously, being aggressive so far has helped Chen and the DPP force the discourse into terrain most favorable to them.

The KMT's controversial and incompetent handling of its party assets, together with the inefficiency of its legislative performance -- originating largely from the pan-blue camp's consistent boycott of the Chen administration over the past fours years -- constitute Chen's next targets.

The pan-blue camp should recognize its position. But being smart and being aggressive must go hand-in-hand. The pan-blue camp is simply too weak and too stupid to deal with the DPP's attacks.

The lack of coherent strategies between the KMT and the PFP to compete with the DPP is one weakness. The failure of both parties to unite under one campaign structure is another.

The upcoming legislative elections are looking more and more "presidential," and like a continuation of the March presidential election. While public support for both Lien and Soong is quickly decreasing, it gives Chen and the DPP the advantage in persuading voters and consolidating a congressional majority.

By taking up key issues and creating a public arena for discussion, Chen can control the pace and the extent of policy-making based on majority opinion. But in the end, it is image that molds and directs the political agenda, not the other way around.

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