The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is in a bit of a muddle over its nomination procedures for next year’s presidential election, with more than 100 politicians and others upset about the plan to scrap a membership vote and just rely on public opinion polls. The DPP congress will make its decision today.
The DPP is not quite 25 years old and its nomination process for elections has undergone almost continuous changes as it struggles to find a way past factionalism and ego-driven politicking. Courageous individuals have contributed much to the party since its founding on Sept. 28, 1986 — a move that was still illegal in the waning days of the Martial Law era — but individualism has also cost the party dearly.
From the beginning, the party’s selection process has not only been more open than the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT), it has been more all-inclusive than most parties throughout the world. However, the frequent changes to its “regulations on the nomination of public official candidates” has hampered the party’s development and now threatens its bid to win next year’s election.
In 1994, the DPP’s Sixth National Congress decided that a two-tier primary system would be used, with grassroots members voting in one primary and party officials in a second. In 1995, the process was changed to allow open primaries for DPP members and non-members alike. The following year was confusing for everyone as the party’s Seventh National Congress decided in June to hold one primary for party members and one for all eligible voters, only to repeal the move that December.
In 1999, the party congress decided that would-be contenders for the 2000 presidential election had to be recommended by more than 40 party leaders, but if only one person met the requirement, the party congress would have to ratify the nomination by a three-fifths majority. In July that year, the congress confirmed former Taipei City mayor Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) as the DPP presidential candidate. His rival, former party chairman Hsu Hsin-liang (許信良), was upset by the rule changes that led to Chen’s victory and quit the party in order to run as an independent.
For the 2008 race, the party held three televised debates, public opinion polls and a party member vote, resulting in former premier Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) winning the nomination.
A party task force has now proposed basing presidential nominations solely on telephone polls in a bid to stop would-be contenders from using proxy members or factions to boost their support numbers. Party members would only be able to have their say through a series of nationwide debates.
Former vice president Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) has said there might be of a mass exodus from the party if the change is enacted. Others don’t see the need to overhaul a system that worked well for the 2008 race.
While the machinations and unrest in the DPP should be giving the KMT some joy, it can’t brag given the very undemocratic ways it has chosen its presidential nominees over the years — most recently President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) selection for 2008, when his strongest challenger, Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平), refused to join the primary because of what he said was the unrepresentative way the party chooses its candidates.
Just as the DPP faces the challenge of widening its appeal beyond pan-green supporters if it is to win more legislative seats and have a chance at the Presidential Office, it must find a way to ensure party members have a say in who represents them. Public opinion polls are well and fine, but the party’s standard bearers must be able to represent the party’s members, as well as appeal to the public.
On the other hand, a major complaint about the KMT’s elected officials is that they owe their loyalty more to the party than the people who elected them. Finding the right balance may be tricky, but it is something the DPP must do if it is to survive.
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