It was sad to see a political party with a glorious past such as the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) register a voter turnout of just 19.96 percent in its chairmanship election on Sunday. It was an indication of the DPP rank and file's indifference to the election and the party's leadership should take note.
The major task facing chairman-elect Yu Shyi-kun is rekindling party member enthusiasm. The party's rank and file were a vigorous force before the DPP gained power in 2000, backing the nation's first localized political party in its fight for democracy as it challenged the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government of the time.
Unfortunately, since the DPP's defeats in the 2004 legislative elections and last month's local government elections, morale has collapsed. If the party fails to regain its spirit and reinvigorate its leadership in the face of these setbacks, it is likely to lose the Taipei and Kaohsiung mayoral elections at the end of the year. The follow-on from this is the likelihood that the presidency will be handed back to the KMT in 2008, precipitating a crisis within the DPP.
In light of the DPP's contribution to democracy in Asia, it is disheartening to see the party sullied by corruption and abuse of power by a few of its members. Beyond that, the party's hesitation and indecisiveness regarding the best way to safeguard Taiwan have also betrayed the expectations of many of its supporters.
This has led to a waning in the public's enthusiasm toward deepening democratic development and social reform, contributing to pessimism about the nation's future. This has undermined the public's faith in the possibility of building a real community.
In the face of these challenges, Yu's role is crucial. He must transcend factional disputes within the party and listen to the grassroots. Only in this way will he be able to act as a conduit between ordinary party members and the leadership, and regain the trust of the rank and file. He also has to rebuild the party's image and be willing to adopt strict measures against any colleagues who are guilty of corruption.
Those involved in corruption or abuse of power, or who are guilty of vote-buying, should be ejected from the party and evidence against them handed over to the authorities. Any kind of protection or hesitation in punishing wrong-doing will only damage the party's reputation further.
The founding members of the DPP -- who braved prison sentences and sacrificed everything to establish a party that could speak for the people of Taiwan and fight for democracy -- can only be deeply disappointed about the situation the party is in today. Yu once said that he had the spirit of a water buffalo. Now is the time for him to show the simplicity, tireless effort and industriousness that that image implies -- to revive the party and allow the nation's democracy to be passed to future generations.