Mon, Dec 26, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Time for the DPP to toughen up

By Li Thian-hok (李天福)

The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is at a crossroads and Taiwan's freedom hangs in the balance.

The DPP's defeat in the Dec. 3 local elections was widely anticipated, yet the extent of the trouncing still came as a shock. Analysts have cited many reasons for the debacle: former presidential aide Chen Che-nan's (陳哲男) misconduct, the Kaohsiung Rapid Transit Corp scandal, the DPP's failure to deliver on promises of reform and the overall lack of discernible achievement over five years. There was also extensive vote-buying by the pan-blue camp's well-oiled "black gold" machine to take into account. Most significant, however, was the intention of the DPP's core supporters to punish the party for its failure to toe a consistent pro-Taiwan line and to implement policies that protect the nation from the ever-growing threat of Chinese annexation.

Some observers have drawn the opposite conclusion: The DPP lost because it was seen as less capable than the opposition parties in dealing with China and was too slow in deregulating cross-strait exchanges. This view is common among pan-blue supporters and foreign observers who do not understand domestic political dynamics. There has in fact been a marked rise in the sense of Taiwanese identity in recent years and a great majority of Taiwanese would prefer to keep their de facto sovereignty and democracy.

How the DPP interprets the motivations of the electorate and how the party adjusts its China policy will no doubt affect the outcome of upcoming elections -- the Taipei and Kaohsiung mayoral elections next year, the elections for the restructured Legislative Yuan in 2007 and the next presidential election in 2008.

Robyn Lim of Nanzan University in Japan recently said that China may be able to annex Taiwan soon after the March 2008 presidential election. This assumes that the DPP will not be able to recover quickly enough to defeat the presumed Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) contender -- Taipei Mayor and party Chairman Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九).

Commenting on the elections' outcome on Dec. 15, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) stated that his administration's insistence on Taiwanese identity, democracy and clean governance would not change. This is a good start.

Chen needs to emphasize further, as he did in an interview with Newsweek in early spring, that no dialogue on the future status of Taiwan may start before China becomes a genuine democracy and before it achieves a standard of living comparable to Taiwan. In other words, Chen needs to clearly enunciate a vision of a democratic and independent future for Taiwan in order to inspire a concerted effort toward that goal.

President Chen needs to make peace with former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝), work closely with the Taiwan Solidarity Union and consult with opinion leaders from all walks of life, including lobbyists, academics and experts in economics and national defense who are committed to a democratic and independent nation. Chen needs to unify the different DPP factions and all members of the public who identify with Taiwan, regardless of their ethnic origin, and urge them to work together for an independent and free Taiwan that can peacefully coexist with China.

The government needs to educate pan-blue supporters on the consequences of Taiwan surrendering to China. The history of Chinese rule since 1949 and its calamitous impact on the average person should be widely disseminated. The leaders of the KMT and the People First Party may slip away to the US or elsewhere if Taiwan were ever to fall into the hands of the Chinese Communist Party, but the rank and file will not be so fortunate. Pan-blue supporters should seriously consider whether they really prefer the repression of the CCP to their own way of life. To be part of an expansionist China is ultimately to be on the front line of a potential war against the military alliance of the US, Japan and other democracies in Asia. Why should the Taiwanese people take sides with the forces of Leninism and autocracy?

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