Wed, Dec 15, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Responsible leaders are essential

In the elections for the sixth Legislative Yuan last Saturday, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which enjoys an administrative advantage, and the Taiwan Solidarity Union, led by former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝), failed to win a majority of seats. In the face of internal criticism and the disappointment of their supporters, the two parties' chairmen and high-level officials responsible for the election campaign have offered to resign. This political effect is sweeping away numerous politicians.

Their responsible approach is laudable. After all, the core of democracy is "political accountability," which is exactly the fundamental principle Taiwan's politicians must learn.

Party leaders and other decision-makers must take responsibility for their parties' gains and losses in major elections. This allows an objective standard to differentiate between right and wrong within each party, and is a clear indicator of politicians' morals. Under such circumstances, those who are honest and responsible can be able to distinguish themselves from those who are thirsty for power while passing the buck in full view of the electorate.

The most prominent case is President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) resignation as DPP chairman. Chen's decision is a wise one and deserves our applause. After all, Chen is not a man who has become proud after reaching high office, and does not use his rank to find ways of excusing his failure. Instead, he admitted the failure by announcing that it is his responsibility to step down after the elections, and he also expressed his most sincere apologies to mem-bers of the DPP. Chen's frank and forthright personality is totally different from the attitude of the previous national leaders and should be a model for future leaders.

Moreover, it is a good opportunity for the DPP, which has always claimed to love Taiwan, to make a change from the political system introduced by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), in which the party had primacy in politics. It is time for the DPP to break with the political structures of the party-state and correct the egregious error of having a president who is also party chairman. It should ensure that it is clearly stated that the presidency and party chairmanship cannot be held concurrently, so that the policies of the party, which are hidden from the voting public, are clearly separated from those of the government administration. Only in this way can the president be a "president for all the people," rather than just being a party leader.

Political parties in many advanced democratic nations serve only as election machinery, their main function being to guide public opinion during election campaigns. The bad examples set by the KMT, which has a massive party organization which allowed it to concurrently hold the presidency and the party chairmanship, should be rejected by the DPP. Despite the KMT's massive party organization, it still lost its hold on government power, and even though the DPP has a fair-sized party machinery, it still managed to be defeated in the legislative elections. Clearly a party organization is not central to winning or retaining power.

So, even as the DPP considers internal reform, it should rationalize the definition of the party's status to something more in keeping with the needs of a modern democratic country. It is important to build a political party that conforms to the spirit of demo-cracy, and the emphasis of party activity should be focused on work in the constituencies. The DPP must learn the lesson of its defeat in the legislative elections and plant the idea of responsible government deeply in the ground of Taiwan's political culture.

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