Sun, May 18, 2008 - Page 8 News List

How best to stay off the middle road

By Lin Cho-shui 林濁水

The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is holding its chairmanship poll today. Chen Shih-meng (陳師孟), former secretary-general of the Presidential Office, has voiced concerns that a chairperson favoring the “middle road” will be elected because of the DPP’s recent electoral defeats.

Chen’s worries are not groundless. Since the DPP’s establishment in 1986, the middle road has had a strong voice in the party. When President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) bluntly proposed his “four noes and one without” policy in 2000, the middle road became mainstream. This is bad for both the party and the development of Taiwan independence.

Political scientists often cite the Dow Theory, which says that in a political confrontation, the left and right wings make up a minority while supporters of the middle road make up the majority. On this basis, many academics claim they have found the best strategy for the blue and green camps: a platform leaning neither toward unification nor independence.

This is questionable, because the issue of sovereignty cannot be compared with that of distribution and production. Generally, support for the left and right wing stance on production and distribution fluctuates in party competition in capitalist societies. The left or the right stance will be more popular at different times, but neither is ever eliminated by the other. The sovereignty issue, on the other hand, is a zero-sum game, so in the long run, the trend will be either toward unification or independence, and there would be no turning back. The neutral stance of “non-unification, non-independence” is transitional.

This can be seen from Taiwan’s development over the past 15 years. Support for Taiwan’s independence temporarily dropped when Chen adopted the middle road, but in the long run, it has increased. If the unification, independence and the centrist stances each represent one-third of the population, the current 60 percent support for independence — nearly two-thirds — has eliminated the centrist stance.

Thus, the DPP was not defeated because it has abandoned the middle road, but rather because of public disappointment with its administrative performance over the past eight years. Even president-elect Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) understands that the middle road is not enough, and he continues to promote Taiwan awareness.

Still, not taking the middle road does not mean the DPP must take a radical path.

The middle road is bad for the development of Taiwanese independence, but so is the radical path, which often ignores objective conditions and the majority opinion. It would be disadvantageous to the independence movement if such a path were to trigger international or domestic anger.

Although the DPP should not take the middle road, it should note that voters are neutral. If the radicals relentlessly attack centrist voters for being opportunistic, they will push voters into the hands of the pan-blue camp, and this is no help in strengthening the independence camp. Therefore, the party should take a “steady” path that is neither centrist nor radical. This path should be based on a firm and clear stance, goodwill and flexible and stable policies that will attract centrist supporters. This would be the best way to benefit Taiwan’s independence.

The DPP has three possibilities to choose from: a steady line that attracts voters without abandoning its position; a middle line that sacrifices its stance while leaning toward the blue camp; or a radical line that sticks to its stance but drives centrist voters away.

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