The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has elected a new chairwoman, Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文). She is taking over at a difficult time for the party: Tomorrow the DPP hands over the reins of government to the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and once again joins the ranks of the opposition.
The DPP’s political fortunes are foundering. The party controls just eight county and city governments in the south and 27 of the 113 seats in the legislature. It will have great difficulties in blocking any KMT attempt to amend the Constitution, not to mention introducing or influencing legislation and budget decisions.
The DPP won’t just be an opposition party, it will be a weak one.
Tsai also has to deal with party debt totaling hundreds of millions of NT dollars. To be able to handle the DPP’s financial problems and meet the obligations of an opposition party, Tsai must reform the organization and streamline its staff.
She must also deal with calls to end government corruption and ensure a government that is working for Taiwan. The corruption scandals of the past eight years have damaged any claims of the party to clean government. The carelessness of the top leadership — exposed when the Papua New Guinea fund scandal erupted earlier this month — has seriously damaged the nation’s image in addition to wasting US$30 million.
With DPP approval ratings at only 18 percent, any attempt to turn public opinion will be difficult.
Another point of great concern is party unity. The competition between Yu Shyi-kun, Frank Hsieh (謝長廷), Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) and Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) to be the party’s presidential nomination revealed rifts that have yet to heal. During the party chairperson election campaign, festering differences between the dismantled factions surfaced once again. It was just luck that the two candidates restrained themselves and their supporters in an attempt to fight a clean campaign and avoid a new factional war.
Although the party faces a host of problems, it is still an important political asset for Taiwan. The DPP government’s contribution to Taiwan’s democratic and human rights development over the past eight years cannot be denied. It has also had an active part in strengthening the Taiwanese identity.
The DPP will remain the most important opposition party and the only one capable of monitoring the KMT.
As the KMT turns enthusiastically to China, the DPP will also be the only protector of Taiwanese identity and interests that could stop Taiwan from being sucked into a whirlwind pro-unification campaign.
The DPP is in tatters, but this could prove to Tsai’s advantage. Now that the party has nothing, there will be less to hold her back. So long as she can maintain the party’s core values, she will be able to push through her proposals for party reform.
If the party sticks to democracy, liberty and concern for Taiwan and works to repair its image, it will be doing more constructive things than it has over the past eight years. Only then would a return to government be possible.