The Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) tumultuous presidential primary has come to an end, with Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) emerging as the winner.
Runner-up Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) gracefully congratulated Tsai and called for the whole party to unite in her support, paving the way for a potential change in power for the third time in Taiwan. Su’s attitude is an admirable model for other politicians.
President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), for his part, made sure he got in first, announcing ahead of the release of the DPP primary results that he would run for a second term on behalf of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). Ma’s wording of the announcement was very similar to that used by the DPP, saying he would defend the nation’s sovereignty and dignity. So Ma made his move even before the DPP’s wounds, resulting from contention during the presidential primary, had a chance to heal.
What Tsai needs to do now is settle into her new role as the DPP’s presidential candidate. This is the first round of the election game and for the moment Ma has the advantage, but there are many more rounds yet to be played out. It is too early to tell who will take the prize in the end, but the media are already cheering and shouting from the sidelines, eager to have their say. As usual, some of the candidates’ supporters are more worried about the campaign than the candidates themselves.
The DPP primary, which was based on opinion polls, showed Tsai’s popularity at 42.5 percent against 35.04 percent for Ma, while Su got 41.15 percent against 33.79 percent for Ma. One would think from those results that Ma is lagging behind Tsai, but that is not necessarily the case. There can be a big difference between the ratings candidates get in opinion polls and the votes they garner on polling day.
Public opinion survey experts appearing on political talk shows point out that these figures can’t really predict the election’s outcome. For example, a recent opinion poll conducted by the Broadcasting Corp of China had public support for Ma at 36.35 percent, a little ahead of Tsai’s 34.48 percent, which is within the poll’s margin of error. Let us not forget that when former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) was Taipei mayor, his approval rating was above 70 percent, but he still lost to Ma when he stood for re-election. That shows how undependable opinion polls can be, so the DPP should not get too excited about the recent poll results.
Whatever ground rules a political party lays down for its presidential primary, the contest is bound to strain relations between party members and the supporters of the different candidates. The important thing is to make sure that the wounds heal quickly once the poll is over, so that the party can present a united front against its rivals. In this respect, Ma has a big advantage because he is unchallenged as the KMT’s candidate and doesn’t have to deal with much finger-pointing from within his own party.
However, there is no need to be overly concerned about a grassroots party like the DPP. The party has had plenty of fierce internal disputes, but the wounds have always healed quite quickly. Politicians who are obsessed with power struggles eventually come to be treated with disdain.
Following her win in the DPP primary, I believe that Tsai, with her political wisdom and stature, will be able to humbly accept the various comments and words of advice, both positive and negative, that she received during her primary campaign. For example, some people think her campaign team was weaker than Su’s and that she is less efficient, so they say she should show vision and magnanimity by making Su her top adviser and bringing the party’s most capable people into her team. Some also advise her to try a “shadow Cabinet” approach to overcome difficulties and achieve success through collective thought and action.