Tue, Jan 24, 2006 - Page 8 News List

The uncertain political road ahead

By Nat Bellocchi 白樂崎

Now that both major parties have new chairmen in place, the march to 2008 begins. There will be transitional elections on the way, including new legislative elections. The Legislative Yuan has gained considerable power, but both domestic and overseas interest will be focused on the presidential election.

The two groups that fought the 2004 election will be more dominated next time around by the two major parties -- the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). Still, the more than two-year period left before the presidential election is a long time politically, and change could easily take place.

Bolstered by momentum from the recent local government elections, the KMT and its new Chairman Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) have moved quickly to expand party membership. The new chairman benefits from having a well-known name and a reputation for advocating integrity in politics. This is very useful for his party since the DPP has suffered considerable damage from corruption scandals.

Despite the KMT's own reputation for corruption, ill-gotten funds and its past profile as an authoritarian party, it still benefits from the capabilities of leaders with years of experience, and discipline -- though somewhat diminished -- that keeps the party strong.

Still, there is an entrenched party elite that remains opposed to what the new chairman calls "reform" but which they see as moves to dismantle their strength. Then there are the local (ie, ethnic Taiwanese) members that comprise about 70 percent of the total membership. They have remained loyal to the party, but inevitably are more oriented toward Taiwan than to China. It will not be easy for the new chairman to overcome these differences.

Over the past six years, the KMT's objective has clearly been to destroy the opposition, at whatever cost to the nation. Some now want a party that is more adapted to the democratic system but will still steer the people to accept a more China-oriented agenda.

The DPP has been a ruling party with differing objectives and little experience in governance. It has often been thwarted by the opposition. Its new party chairman is also well known to the voters, and like his KMT counterpart he will experience a great deal of disagreement within his party with little time to overcome the problem.

Unlike the differences within the KMT, which are not so openly discussed, the DPP's culture of debate is more open and less disciplined. Incoming DPP Chairman Yu Shyi-kun has stated his objectives, one of which is to make the party a central point where the views of the executive branch, the DPP legislative caucus and the Presidential Office are coordinated before action is taken.

Again, like his KMT counterpart, within the next year Yu will have to deal with the Taipei and Kaohsiung mayoral elections and the redistribution of electorates, followed by the legislative elections and the presidential election.

There are domestic and external challenges that each side will have to address. Voters are tired of continuous political activities that do not address their interests. Younger voters seem to take the potential for serious conflict for granted. There is a temptation to simply accept an unclear status quo, but there is also a need to carry out government reform and deal with the external problems that arise from this. An understanding of two issues is likely to influence the result of the next election. These are the strength of the cross-strait relationship and changes in the nation's identity.

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