Tue, Dec 06, 2005 - Page 8 News List

DPP's loss highlights urgent need for reform

By Bruce Jacobs 家博

In the recent local elections, Taiwan's voters have dealt the Democratic National Party (DPP) a huge loss. How can we explain this strong and relatively sudden decline in the DPP's support among the electorate?

First, in most mature democracies, voters eventually vote out the government and vote in the opposition. In the eyes of the voters, as the party holding the presidency, the DPP has become the ruling party. This partially explains the losses in Ilan County, where the DPP and its dangwai (outside the party, 黨外) predecessor had held power for 24 years, and in Taipei County, where the DPP had been in power for 16 years. The only other place where the DPP has held power for at least 16 years, Kaohsiung County, provided one of the few DPP success stories this election.

Second, the corruption issue resonated strongly with voters. The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) was much more corrupt when in power, but voters were more concerned with the current ruling party. The Chen Che-nan (陳哲男) case hurt, but it only symbolized greater corruption at lower levels in the DPP. As the ruling party, the DPP has attracted new elements who are driven by personal interests rather than ideals. These people have hurt the DPP's reputation and made a mockery of its campaign slogan, "Push Reform, Care for Taiwan." On election eve, some more orthodox DPP members in the south sadly cracked a joke that held considerable truth: "The DPP has reform. We now buy votes."

Third, we must remember that the DPP is weak organizationally even in the area of its electoral strength, the southwestern region of Taiwan. In Chiayi County, which President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) won with about 50 percent of the vote in 2000 and more than 62 percent last year, the DPP only won the county and a majority of legislative seats after an alliance between the DPP and the Lin faction in late 2001. Even today it remains unclear whether the DPP or the Lin faction dominates this alliance.

Party identification also remains weak even among politicians. Of the 15 candidates for county commissioner and the legislature in 2001 in Chiayi County, fully two-thirds had changed party affiliation within the previous two years. This is a weakness that the DPP must overcome before it can hope to run the nation effectively.

Finally, the DPP must remember that the purpose of elections is to gain office in order to implement policies. Too often the DPP has seen elections as an end in themselves. Too many times people have gained office only to leave and run in another election. Too many times the president has called for a Cabinet reshuffle.

If Chen Ding-nan (陳定南) had remained minister of justice rather than returning to Ilan, possibly the huge amount of vote-buying in this election would have been reduced. If Lin Chia-lung (林佳龍) had continued to implement his media policies at the Government Information Office instead of running in Taichung City, the government's current media policies might not be so disastrous.

If this election defeat results in another churning of positions, the DPP will have gained nothing from this defeat.

Vibrant democracies require both strong ruling parties and strong opposition parties. The presidential and legislative elections are still two years away. For Taiwan's sake, let us hope that both parties use these two years to reform themselves. If they do, the nation's voters will have a choice between two decent alternatives. Then, Taiwan as a whole will benefit.

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