Mon, Oct 15, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Chen-Hsieh cooperation key for the DPP to win

By Liu Kuan-teh 劉冠德

The Democratic Progressive Party's (DPP) potential split came to an end with President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) resuming the party's chairmanship and presidential candidate Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) appearing in public last week.

The episode showed that unity is the only solution to the DPP's survival and continued governance. Its tradition of open and pluralist competition is also key.

As a lame-duck president, Chen taking over the DPP chairmanship also illustrates the uniqueness of Taiwanese politics. Not only is he trying to remain politically relevant for the remainder of his term, he remains the main political heavyweight in the pan-green camp.

After a 13-day absence and repeated rumors about his health, Hsieh restarted his campaign following Chen's announcement. Hsieh invited Chinese National Party (KMT) presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) to a public debate about the referendum proposals on joining the UN.

Contrary to his earlier low-key endorsement of Chen's referendum agenda, Hsieh demonstrated his absolute support for the referendum and accepted the issue as one of the most important of the presidential campaign.

Despite the dramatic Chen-Hsieh cooperation and the reorientation of the DPP's campaign, there are three major challenges that both men need to tackle.

The first is the extent to which Chen might overshadow Hsieh in the course of the campaign. When questioned by reporters on how they would work together on the campaign, Hsieh said Chen was in charge of state affairs while he was running the election campaign.

Chen said he did not foresee coordination problems because Hsieh would rule on campaign strategy matters.

Nevertheless, given that the referendum campaign is the most controversial issue and Chen's dual role, his words and deeds will no doubt draw the most media attention, which could marginalize Hsieh. This explains why Hsieh raised his profile on the referendum bid.

A clearer division of labor should be arranged between Hsieh's camp and DPP headquarters and more coordination is needed within the green camp to keep everyone on the same page.

Second, Hsieh must refocus the campaign to become more candidate-centered. Despite his limited personal charisma, Ma should not pose strong competition for Hsieh, who is one of the DPP's most visionary and creative political leaders. He proved his capabilities as an administrator both as Kaohsiung City mayor and as premier.

Ma, on the other hand, has a long record of opposition to democratic reform and the notion of Taiwan-centric consciousness. His recent push for a referendum to use any flexible name -- including the Republic of China or Taiwan -- to return to the UN was simply an attempt to assimilate the DPP agenda.

Ma's performance as Taipei mayor was also lackluster, though people may not realize it because he was protected by the pro-unification media.

Not only has Ma failed as KMT chairman to achieve his internal reform proposals, he supported the party's irrational boycott of the DPP government programs.

When it comes to the question of who is more capable of leading the nation in the process of becoming a normalized country, prosperous economy and advanced democracy, Hsieh's greatest competitor seems to be Chen, not Ma.

Most importantly, Hsieh must convincingly explain to voters how he would implement his notion of "seeking reconciliation and coexistence" for Taiwan in the wake of what is expected to be an increasingly negative and ugly presidential campaign.

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