Mon, Jan 02, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Voters control the political agenda

By Wu Yu-shan 吳玉山

What is the primary motivating force driving Taiwanese politics? Following democratization, we have seen the gradual formation of the pan-blue and pan-green camps. Both camps have had their electoral ups and downs, and both have adjusted their platform in response to changes in public opinion. Change in public attitudes is the force that drives the nation's political development.

The stance of the camps today differs considerably from the 1990s when they were closer to each other on the ideological spectrum -- and almost shared the same position on unification/independence. During the 2000 presidential election campaign, there was almost no difference between the three candidates, with then Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman Lien Chan (連戰) following then president Lee Teng-hui's (李登輝) dictum on special state-to-state relations, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) pushing something similar, and People First Party (PFP) Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜), then an independent candidate, advocating a quasi-international relationship.

The three candidates had differing approaches but came up with comparable results in their China policies, with Lien making the Guidelines for National Reunification more lenient, Chen pushing for "one-way direct cross-strait transportation," and Soong advocating the "three links." With their similar views on national identity and China policy, they all wanted to gain the support of swing voters.

In the early 21st century, the nation's politics began to move away from the center. The 2004 presidential election campaign was carried out in the midst of excitement triggered by debate over national referendums and constitutional reform. After broaching the sensitive subject of constitutional reform, Chen's popularity saw a dramatic rise, forcing pan-blue candidates Lien and Soong to respond to the issue of referendums. This led the two camps into a competition to establish a timetable for constitutional amendment or wholesale change.

Lee stated that a new constitution had to be implemented by 2008, and Chen pushed the schedule forward by promising a constitutional referendum by 2006, while Lien and Soong promised to carry out large-scale constitutional amendment in 2005. This radicalization of the issue of national identity would have been unimaginable in the 1990s.

For the DPP, touching upon the sensitive issue of unification or independence did not damage its image, but instead became a catalyst giving it wider public support. The green camp's millions-strong Feb. 28, 2004, "hand in hand" rally brought support for the DPP's platform to new heights. It seemed that public opinion was moving from the center towards independence. The fact that the DPP was able to gain more than half of the national vote after promoting referendums and the writing of a new constitution was something beyond the scope of anyone's imagination four years earlier.

When the green camp abandoned its moderate position on unification/independence and reaped the benefits of adopting a more radical position, the pan-blue camp found itself in the doldrums. With the 2004 presidential elections just around the corner, Lien and Soong's act of kissing Taiwanese soil was an emotive act of self-defense, reflecting the fact that their opponents controlled the agenda and generally held the upper hand. With the pan-blue camp only able to exercise passive damage control, people wondered what had happened to its strength.

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