A flurry of recent announcements suggests that the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) is preparing to push for reforms in several areas of domestic interest. On Jan. 4, the legislature passed a bill that increases funding to the cash-strapped National Health Insurance (NHI) program. On Jan. 7, it abolished the income tax immunity enjoyed by teachers and military personnel. Plans are also in the pipeline to address problems related to the low birth rate and the controversial 18 percent preferential interest rate program for civil servants.
One would think that this is exactly what the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) needs after its success in the November special municipality elections — a chance to engage the government on matters of public concern — thereby establishing its credentials in terms of both the policy wonkishness and the political savvy needed to win the 2012 presidential election.
So, where is the DPP? Consumed by infighting and outmaneuvered at every political turn.
Before November, rifts took the form of defections in Kaohsiung over the procedure followed by the DPP to select its candidates for the special municipality elections. They have since continued with attacks from members of the party’s old guard, in particular former vice president Annette Lu (呂秀蓮), whose own political ambition now threatens to prolong bickering over nominating presidential candidates for 2012.
Ideology also divides the DPP. Last week the issue of independence raised its ugly head when former premier Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) said Taiwan should embrace the Republic of China Constitution as common political ground, a proposal that numerous party factions loudly rejected as undermining sovereignty. Yet without such a proposal, there is no answer to the obvious question posed by Ma and others: How does the DPP hope to establish a relationship with the People’s Republic of China if it refuses to recognize the so-called “1992 consensus?”
Nevertheless, such problems were entirely predictable and should have been settled quickly to prepare for the political work than now needs doing. That they were not speaks to a lack of leadership as much as a party divided against itself.
Both difficulties were apparent last week when amid debate over the 18 percent preferential interest rate the KMT revealed details of DPP Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) savings account, declaring her to have benefited from the very policy she “hypocritically” opposes. Aside from the blatant illegality of the revelation and Tsai’s feeble claim that she “might” sue those responsible, Lu, in an astonishing display of disloyalty, once again led an attack against Tsai from within the party.
Some have demanded that Tsai apologize to the nation. She should not. Instead she should keep her savings account and demand that the National Police Agency conduct an investigation into the disclosure of her personal financial records. Suing is an excellent idea.
Furthermore, now that her records are public, why not turn them to good political use. What better way to demonstrate to the Taiwanese public just how much money civil servants make from the 18 percent preferential interest rate than to view an actual case in point.
This approach would also serve the dual purpose of demonstrating Tsai’s leadership. She is clearly the one who has been wronged, both by the KMT legislator who made the records public, and by those in her party who turned on her for their own gain.
Besides turning the tables on the KMT, it is time Tsai got tough with her own party, which right now is having trouble running itself, never mind the country.
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