Soon after Saturday’s special municipality elections were concluded, senior Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) members launched a campaign to oust DPP Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文).
Dissatisfied with the party’s failure to capture the mayoralties of Taipei, Sinbei and Taichung cities, DPP Legislator Chai Trong-rong (蔡同榮), former vice president Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) and former director of the party’s Taipei Chapter Huang Ching-lin (黃慶林) pointed fingers at the party headquarters, blaming Tsai for the unimpressive election outcome.
Former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), who is imprisoned at the Tucheng Detention Center, also called on Tsai to consider following his lead and resigning as he did after the party’s weak performance in the 2008 legislative election.
Indeed, it is part of the DPP’s tradition for chairpersons to step down over poor electoral performance to acknowledge failed leadership.
But should Tsai follow tradition in this instance?
A simple but effective way to answer the question is to weigh her contributions to the party and the mistakes she made.
It is no exaggeration to say that Tsai led the DPP out of misery when the party lost the presidency and secured less than a quarter of the 113 seats in the legislature in 2008.
Under her leadership, the DPP won the legislative by-election in the second electoral district in KMT stronghold Yunlin County the next year, sweeping 58.81 percent of the votes — much more than the 49.11 percent of the ballots originally garnered by the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) Chang Sho-wen (張碩文), whose victory in the district was annulled on vote-buying charges.
And then the DPP took back the holy land of democracy — Yilan — in the city and county chief elections and gave the KMT a fright by losing by only a very small margin in KMT strongholds of Taoyuan and Taitung at the end of the same year.
The DPP went on to excel in six out of seven legislative by-elections in January and February this year, bringing the party’s total number of legislative seats from 27 in 2008 to the current 33, making it easier for the party to file a proposal to amend the Constitution or to depose the president.
Under Tsai’s leadership, the DPP is clearly making progress, despite the “failure” in Saturday’s elections.
It is true Tsai was beaten by her KMT rival, Eric Chu (朱立倫), in the Sinbei City mayoral election. It is also true that the DPP did not win the Taipei or Greater Taichung mayoralties.
However, there was substantial growth in the party’s support base.
Tsai attracted 206,667 more votes than DPP candidate Lo Wen-chia (羅文嘉) — a former top aide of Chen — did in 2005, while Su Jia-chyuan (蘇嘉全), who served as secretary-general of the DPP under Tsai last year, won 247,613 more votes than the votes garnered by the party’s Taichung commissioner candidate Chiu Tai-san (邱太三) and mayoral candidate Lin Chia-lung (林佳龍) in 2005.
Apart from voter discontent with the KMT’s administrative achievement, the DPP’s success owed much to Tsai’s freshness and unconventional leadership.
She may be considered undesirable by senior party members because she is unlike other Taiwanese political figures, but her approach helped salvage the DPP from the 2008 election abyss.
What’s more, her leadership may have positive implications for the 2012 presidential election.