Everyone will likely build their own interpretation as to why the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was defeated in last month’s presidential election, but surely the key was the party’s inability to attract moderate voters to their cross-strait relations discourse.
When gearing up for the campaign, the DPP should have anticipated that the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) would emphasize the importance of stability, and that China would spare no effort in helping President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九). It should have been clear to DPP strategists that the party needed to prepare a suitable response.
Unfortunately, then-DPP candidate Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) “Taiwan consensus” was not backed up by an expert discourse. After China said in no uncertain terms that it would cancel all preferential treatment if Taiwan rejected the so-called “1992 consensus,” many companies were forced to offer last-minute endorsements for Ma.
Most moderate voters felt uncertain about the future and Tsai was unable to provide them with the confidence they wanted. As a result, the KMT was able to extend its rule, despite the widening wealth gap and even though a majority of the public has seen none of the economic growth the Ma administration says has taken place during its first term in government.
With the exception of -promising a NT$100 billion (US$3.37 billion) agricultural fund, many of the DPP’s agricultural policies, such as direct purchases, pensions for retired farmers and agricultural insurance policies, were not very different from the KMT’s policies, despite the inclusion of some former agricultural officials in their campaign team.
Nor did the DPP propose any concrete solutions to differentiate itself from the KMT when it came to imbalances in the distribution chain, exploitation of wholesalers, local economic development or plans to expand into international markets in addition to China. Instead, it made a critical mistake with its NT$2 a jin (600g) persimmon campaign flyers, which hurt persimmon farmers in Hsinchu and Miaoli counties and gave the KMT a chance to divert the focus from its poor performance. In addition to using the wrong pictures and prices, the party’s mistakes also highlight a lack of professionalism and poor research in the gathering of agricultural information.
In particular, if the DPP saw a threat in the support that China offered Taiwanese farmers and fishermen, then it should have provided concrete evidence to start an analysis to back up its fears, instead of hoping that -agricultural workers would tighten their belts and support the DPP no matter what.
If power struggles among the party’s politicians and different factions continue, and if the party fails to learn from its mistakes and implement comprehensive reform, it will not be able to win voter support.
As for the KMT, it repeatedly promoted the advantages of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) for the agricultural and fisheries industries by citing outstanding export volumes, as represented by grouper export figures. This should have given the KMT solid support among farmers and fishermen, but they did not perform very well in agriculture-oriented Yunlin and Chiayi counties and Greater Tainan.
In particular, this was true in some benchmark locations, such as grouper production areas in Yongan (永安) in Greater Kaohsiung, Fangliao (枋寮) in Pingtung County, as well as Syuejia (學甲) in Greater Tainan — a pro-DPP area for milkfish production that Beijing attempted to buy over, according to the news media. The KMT’s support ratings in these areas were low, as they have been in the past, and the political map remains unchanged, sending a message that Ma and China’s leaders should pay closer attention to.