Who has a better chance of winning next year’s presidential election, the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) candidate, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), or the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) candidate, Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文)? According to most opinion polls, they are currently in a 50-50 tie, making it hard to predict who will win the Jan. 14 poll.
If Tsai is able to reform her party over the next eight months, form a team that can differentiate itself from the traditional DPP and get voters who are discontented with Ma’s performance to believe in her ability to open up new vistas for Taiwan, then I believe Ma’s hold on power could disintegrate, culminating in a landslide defeat at the polls.
Judging from the speech Ma gave after he received the KMT Central Standing Committee’s presidential nomination on Wednesday last week, in his mind, he is still fighting the old DPP — the DPP that existed before Tsai took over the leadership of the party. The KMT has spent more than 20 years trying to learn and understand how the old DPP worked. In the end, they found their opponent’s Achilles’ heel and regained power in 2008.
If Tsai does not manage to transform her party and fights for the presidency based on outdated ideals and methods, Ma will easily defeat her by simply duplicating his 2008 presidential campaign.
Judging from the statements Ma has made leading up to his nomination, he is doing precisely that: repeating the strategic and tactical approaches of 2008. The KMT is an aging organization that is both clumsy and lacks the ability to learn quickly. The main reason why Tsai is able to threaten Ma’s re-election is that Ma does not know how to deal with an atypical DPP leader, such as Tsai.
Tsai must push for the transformation of the DPP and avoid getting caught in the DPP’s old approach, which was to integrate and mollify all its different factions, as that would allow Ma to secure an easy victory.
What should Tsai do to bring about renewal and change?
She heralds a new type of DPP leader and as such, she must focus on portraying herself as someone with a rich set of ideas and a new vocabulary in an attempt to set the agenda and the policy debate. The ability to do this might just persuade voters that her new team would be capable of solving some of the problems left by the Ma administration.
Tsai must make voters believe that the DPP has gone through a thorough transformation under her leadership and that this new DPP is different from the old grassroots party with its simple language.
In particular, effective cross-strait and and economic policies that are clearly differentiated from Ma’s are key to winning the presidential election.
Allen Houng is a professor at National Yang-Ming University’s Institute of Philosophy of Mind and Cognition.
Translated by Eddy Chang