The resignation of Chinese Nationalist (KMT) Secretary-General King Pu-tsung (金溥聰) on Tuesday last week has raised, and will probably continue to raise, concerns in certain pan-blue circles about the possibility of disunity within their ranks. Not only do the circumstances surrounding King’s departure foment speculation, but the controversy surrounding his tenure brings into question the KMT’s ability to keep its house in order.
However, pan-green supporters should also be aware of tensions within the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
PUMA (People United Means Action) is a political action group which opposed the US Democratic Party’s nomination of US President Barack Obama (and supported US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton) prior to the 2008 US presidential election. Although the inner-party threat to the Democratic ticket did not effect the outcome of the race, it did create sores within the Democratic Party, which to this day lurk beneath the surface and may come back to haunt the Democrats in a probably more competitive 2012 election.
Thankfully (for the Democrats, anyway), the majority of the US public was unhappy with then-US president George W. Bush and impressed enough with what Obama had to offer when compared to his opponent, Senator John McCain, to allow Obama to cruise to a relatively comfortable victory in 2008.
At this moment, the situation in Taiwan appears as though it could head in the same general direction. With DPP Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) coming under increasing fire from both inside and outside the DPP and certain DPP “old guard” politicians (former vice president Annette Lu [呂秀蓮] for one) giving the appearance that they may be willing to surrender party unity for the sake of proving a political point, there is a risk that DPP infighting could doom the party next year.
President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and his government may be suffering from low approval ratings and have performed relatively poorly in November’s municipal elections, but the KMT was still able to score victories in three special municipalities against quite strong DPP opponents. Thus, although the KMT’s appeal may be faltering when compared to its 2008 legislative and presidential performances, it still performed quite well in heavily populated and predominantly blue areas.
Second, as the 2004 US presidential election demonstrated, a relatively unpopular president does not make him a dead political stick come election time. Of equal, if not greater, importance is the quality of his opponent. In other words, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry’s lackluster performance as the Democratic Party’s presdiential candidate was of key importance.
Bush’s small margin of victory in 2004 should give us some indication about the importance of a strong opposition candidate: A candidate of Obama’s 2008 caliber could have beaten an unpopular Bush.
The DPP can draw lessons from both the 2004 and 2008 US presidential elections. However, party unity is even more important on a national level for the DPP than it was for Democrats in 2008, as many of the most -populous areas of Taiwan are blue. Moreover, it is highly unlikely that Ma and his party have as yet reached the point of no return popularity-wise, especially after the outcome of last year’s special municipality elections.
Indeed, Ma and the KMT resemble more closely an embattled but not defeated president and party, much like Bush and the Republicans of 2004 than the McCain and Republicans of 2008. At the very least, the DPP cannot underestimate its opponent.
However, I find it very difficult to envisage the DPP, at least as the situation currently stands, being able to choose a candidate that can win the election and satisfy both the younger and older generations in the party.
Even today, on many blogs I’ve seen and in talking to both Taiwanese and foreign observers, there exists a feeling that Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) not only could have performed better in 2008, but “should” be the DPP candidate next year (especially now that Hsieh has, at least ostensibly, ruled himself out of the running).
This should not be misunderstood as saying that Su cannot or should not be nominated. He would make a strong candidate regardless of his running mate, but some of the negative stigma of the “old guard” still colors people’s views of him, just as it does Lu and Hsieh.
The question that should be asked within the DPP is not “who should run?” but “who can win?” Su’s strong, but unconvincing, performance in Taipei in November, events such as the election eve shooting notwithstanding, may indicate that he might not be able to carry blue (or bluer) areas.
A candidate like Su Chia-chuan (蘇嘉全), however, who exceeded many people’s expectations in Taichung, a predominantly blue area, might stand a better chance. Young, demonstrably energetic and with a professional yet down to earth persona, Su Chia-chuan, as either a presidential or vice presidential candidate, would make a strong contender.
Not only does he seem a harder political target to hit than someone older and more established, but he is also, according to many females I’ve discussed Taiwanese politics with, relatively easy on the eyes. Readers may laugh, but the idea that Ma the candidate was handsome, young — and did I mention handsome? — caught the attention of many young female voters in 2008. Although physical appearance quite obviously says very little about an individual’s political skills and leadership abilities, it quite obviously says volumes to — shall we say “certain” — voters.
Regardless of what “certain” voters might think, a younger, more energetic, and down-to-earth candidate would certainly present Ma and the KMT with a formidable challenge.
However, I fear that a nomination of Su Chia-chuan to either post would be unacceptable to the older generation of DPP party stalwarts, if for no other reason than they may believe someone else — perhaps one of them — “should” run, even though most have little chance of winning.
How the DPP deals with this dilemma may very well decide what future historians write about the current period.
Nathan Novak studies China and the Asia-Pacific region with a particular focus on cross-strait relations at National Sun Yat-sen University.
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