Wed, Dec 14, 2005 - Page 8 News List

DPP must first shore up its base of support

By Chin Heng-wei 金恆煒

What cost the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) the Dec. 3 elections? Recently, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) stayed at home to engage in some soul-searching and find answers for the party's problems. The question is, what exactly were the problems?

Premier Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) said that a major reason for the DPP's defeat was the so-called "Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) phenomenon," which the party never dared to face up to. He said that the party has to unite against the phenomenon, because the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) has been consolidated after Ma was elected chairman in July.

Were Hsieh's comments correct? Well, they were not wrong, but they are only partially right. According to some news reports, DPP opinion polls conducted after the elections show that, based on the numbers of votes for the pan-blue and pan-green camps in last year's presidential election, 92 percent of pan-blue voters voted for the pan-blue camp's candidates this time, while only 71 percent of pan-green voters voted for the pan-green camp's candidates again. The high turnout rate of the pan-blue camp's supporters was certainly a result of the Ma phenomenon.

But how can Hsieh explain the low turnout rate of the pan-green camp's own supporters? Can the Ma phenomenon possibly have caused this? The DPP's defeat was a result of its supporters' disenchantment, far more than the Ma phenomenon.

So an important lesson is that the DPP actually lost the elections because its supporters did not vote. In other words, the party lost miserably by failing to satisfy its own supporters. It is thus evident that the DPP's fate lies in the stability of its support base. Once its base becomes shaky, there is little that the moderates can do to help -- and it's not clear how many "swing" voters exist anyway.

Where does the DPP have an advantage? Last year's presidential election provides an example. The party received at least 1.5 million votes more than it earned in the previous presidential election, and won the battle thanks in large part to the 228 Hand-in-Hand Rally. This event clearly demonstrated the party's comparative advantage. If it can continue to build on this advantage, then it will be able to hold the mainstream position.

Some DPP politicians peddle the myth of the "middle way." The biggest contradiction in Taiwan is national identity. Didn't the Taiwanese people use their ballots to show their determination to safeguard the nation in last year's presidential election? Today, the nation faces a polarized choice between the pan-blues and the pan-greens, a situation similar to that after World War II, when there was a choice between the US or the Soviet Union.

As then US secretary of state John Dulles commented, "To be neutral is immoral." In the sharp confrontation between pro-China and pro-localization forces, almost everyone has a stance.

If median voters really exist, most of them are indifferent to politics and seldom vote, or are "watermelon voters," who bend with the wind and pick the biggest watermelon in the field, as the Taiwanese saying goes. If the party only tries to curry favor with such voters, it will be unsuccessful, and will drive away its own supporters. The end result will be to further enhance the Ma phenomenon.

Besides, a party can only attract more moderate voters when its diehard supporters all enthusiastically support it. US social theorist Immanuel Wallerstein suggested that what looks normal statistically soon looks normal morally as well. This should serve as a motto for the defeated DPP.

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