The mayoral elections in Taipei and Kaohsiung were important primarily because both major political parties stated that they were crucial to Taiwan's future. The elections suggest that vigorous democratic politics will continue in Taiwan.
In a sense, both the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) have won, but neither political party should become complacent. Rather, both must reconsider their basic strategies if Taiwan is to progress politically, economically and socially.
The DPP barely won the Kaohsiung mayoralty. The central government must not take too much comfort from this close result. Rather, it needs to recommit to policies that benefit Taiwan as a nation rather than the DPP as a political party.
For example, if Cabinet ministers are performing well, they must be retained in office. Having five premiers in six years may balance DPP party factions, but it does not reform government. The DPP government can at most appoint three or four persons to each ministry.
Reform takes time and repeated effort. Changing the minister each year only stalls the reform process and creates a halting, stuttering administration. In this context, it would be retrograde if DPP regulations forced Premier Su Tseng-chang (
Second, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) must control the first family. When senior DPP leaders only half-joke that "the president works hard in the Presidential Office all day and then when he comes home he must work even harder," the DPP has serious problems.
The president firmly believes his wife suffered her paraplegia owing to his participation in politics and this certainly creates feelings of guilt. But why did he promise to send Wu Shu-jen (
The KMT too must make many changes.
First, it needs to learn the meaning of "loyal opposition." It can and should criticize the government, but it should do so rationally and positively. Both government and opposition want a prosperous and happy Taiwan. It is time that the KMT became more cooperative rather than oppose everything simply to oppose.
The proposals to purchase US arms may have flaws, but Taiwan clearly does need weapons against a threatening enemy and this requires cooperation between government and opposition in the nation's interest.
The opposition too must learn that, to be successful, it must move to the broad center. Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (
This being the case, why has Ma since then courted the far-right of conservative politics? Why has he tried to do deals with People First Party Chairman James Soong (
This election clearly must spell the end of Soong's political career. A "politician" in all the worst meanings of that word, Soong has not hesitated to spout lies in order to advance his career. To use a baseball analogy, "three strikes and you're out."
Soong lost the presidential election in 2000, the 2004 election as a vice-presidential candidate, and now his run for Taipei mayor. Taipei, which is the electorate in Taiwan with the most Mainlanders, gave him only 4.14 percent of the vote. Clearly, he can no longer operate successfully on the Taiwanese political stage, and his bankrupting of the provincial government in order to gain votes in the presidential election of 2000 no longer wins any support among the electorate.
It is also time for Chairman Ma to reduce the rhetoric about "corruption." Yes, the DPP clearly has corruption, but so does the KMT -- and KMT corruption appears far worse. The emphasis on corruption has ignited a firestorm in Taiwan's partisan press that has come around to bite Ma on the buttocks. Such leftovers from the dictatorial era as "special funds" need to be fixed in a non-partisan way.
In a discussion last week with two aides of Huang Chun-ying (
The main problem facing the KMT is a shortage of talent. The party appears to have no candidate beyond Ma, and the recent suggestion that Ma should run as an independent if an indictment should prevent him from being the KMT's candidate clearly illustrates this. Crazy ideas such as having former KMT chairman Lien Chan (連戰), a man who has been virtually traitorous in his dealings with China, run for president a third time would of course please the DPP greatly. The KMT must clearly groom more talent.
The DPP is fortunate in having more competent candidates for president, but it must learn to act as a cohesive political party rather than an alliance of factions. Frank Hsieh improved over the DPP's 2002 showing in Taipei, but he did not reach Chen Shui-bian's numbers in the 1994 and 1998 mayoral elections. Su appears to be in the driver's seat provided he and the president can turn the DPP government around and provided he is given sufficient time to prove his competency.
Clearly Taiwan's politics will continue to be worth observing. But Taiwan's politicians must remember that elections are only a means to an end -- achieving government to improve the nation and its localities. Thinking only about the next election is a short cut to national destruction.
Bruce Jacobs is a professor of Asian languages and studies and director of the Taiwan Research Unit at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia.
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