Winning by a close margin in a unique public poll system, Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) beat former premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) in the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) primary for next year’s presidential election.
Despite some controversial political maneuverings by certain DPP factions and individuals against him, Su displayed a gentlemanly manner by not only accepting the results, but also calling for his supporters to stand behind Tsai. Tsai, in her victory speech, called for the DPP to unify and win the presidency and legislature come January.
Both Tsai and Su deserve much credit for leading the opposition in a moderate, pragmatic direction and introducing a gradual “generation change” to the DPP. To maintain party unity, both of them refrained from attacking each other and centered their campaigns on personality and policy. As Tsai said afterward, it is not a victory for the individual, but a victory for the DPP that matters.
A unified DPP stands a better chance of beating President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), as indicated by the results of the poll, which showed both Tsai and Su leading Ma by almost 7 percentage points. The poll underlined Ma’s leadership crisis. Even among most polls following the DPP’s primary conducted by Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT)-friendly media such as the China Times and the United Daily News, Tsai and Ma would be neck-and-neck were the presidential election to be held tomorrow. The DPP and Tsai are off to a good start.
Nevertheless, Tsai is facing tremendous challenges. First and foremost is the need to maintain party unity and bridge the gap with other heavyweights. Tsai’s close victory over Su showed that she needs the former premier’s help in the election. The so-called “Tsai-Su ticket” may not be possible owing to Su’s earlier pledge that he would not be Tsai’s running mate if he lost, but his support would allow Tsai to take advantage of Su’s popularity among the DPP’s rank and file. Given that Su lost to Tsai by only 1.35 percentage points in the poll, he could definitely play a significant role in campaigning for the DPP in the next nine months. By cooperating with Su, Tsai would strengthen her leadership within the party and add to her chances of unseating Ma.
While Tsai has been successfully highlighting her philosophy of “generation change,” campaigning on the promise of change as US President Barack Obama did in his campaign, ever since she led the DPP out of the shadow of electoral defeat in 2008, her lack of administrative and legislative experience have presented her with difficulties.
Still, Tsai’s fresh image as a non-traditional DPP leader, as well as her efforts to lead the party toward the middle ground, help position her as a new-generation leader for the DPP. Moreover, the DPP has long been unfairly portrayed as “anti-China” or “a troublemaker” when it comes to cross-strait relations. As an expert on cross-strait relations, national security and Taiwan’s international legal status, Tsai has strengthened the DPP’s perceived weakness in managing Taiwan’s relationship with China.
By winning the candidacy, Tsai can continue her efforts to outline the DPP’s 10-year policy platform. On cross-strait policy, Tsai has set the tone for the DPP to “seek consensus from difference in a peaceful way” with the Chinese Communist Party. In terms of how to engage a rising China, Tsai shared her thoughts with other DPP leaders like Su to introduce a balanced approach of reaching out to China by connecting with the global system. In other words, the DPP’s future cross-strait policy direction, grounded in pragmatism and moderation, would carefully weigh geo-political changes and strengthen Taiwan’s ties with the US and its Asian allies while pursuing peaceful engagement with China. Beijing is not expected to back down on its demands for the DPP’s acceptance of the “one China” principle and the so-called “1992 consensus.”