Most people’s assessment of the first debate between candidates for the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chaimanship was that it was dull and the contenders were only going through the motions.
There are three possible reasons for this. First, there are to be three debates altogether, and each of the candidates has his or her own priority for tackling the different issues. Second, the way the debate was set up made it hard for the candidates to focus and cross swords on definite issues. Third, the candidates’ views on many issues are not clearly differentiated.
While the first debate had a few bright points, the candidates unfortunately missed the opportunity to develop them.
Su Huan-chih (蘇煥智) observed that the children of Taiwanese emigrants have different ideas from their parents about how to safeguard Taiwan.
Wu Rong-i (吳榮義) raised expectations by presenting himself as an economics expert.
Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) demonstrated his broadmindedness by his non-aggressive questioning of the other candidates.
Chai Trong-rong (蔡同榮) said that the cross-strait Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement was not enough and that Taiwan needed to sign free-trade agreements with other nations.
Hsu Hsin-liang (許信良) harked back to his experience as a romantic revolutionary.
However, on the issues of China policy, Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌), jailed former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and party reform, the candidates were all in agreement. If that is how it is going to be, then there is no point in holding a debate. They could just have a big happy unity jamboree instead.
In the first debate, the five candidates spent the whole time talking about principles and orientation. Would it not be better if they could turn principles into action and orientation into programs? If they did that, people would be able to see where the candidates’ views differed.
Candidates for the DPP chairmanship should be able to define their ideas about the party’s role and functions. How should the DPP monitor the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government? What kind of crisis does Taiwan’s democracy face? Why is Taiwan being marginalized? What can we do about the increasingly unequal distribution of wealth? Considering the many problems Taiwan faces, why can the candidates not get a handle on these key issues?
The DPP’s huge victory in the April 28 by-election for mayor of Changhua County’s Lugang Township (鹿港) shows that people are angry with President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and his government. How can the DPP take advantage of this public mood? Only by outlining policy demands that incorporate progressive values can the party turn popular resentment against the KMT government into solid support for itself. What better opportunity is there than these debates for the DPP to show its vitality and readiness to rise?
The four candidates competing with Su Tseng-chang have made the mistake of focusing too much on challenging him, while failing to highlight their own characteristics as potential leaders. If the other candidates keep on confronting Su as an end in itself, they risk being accused of political manipulation, and their own images will become increasingly blurred. DPP members will then end up asking why these people are standing against Su at all.
In the debate’s question-and-answer section, Su chose to advance by giving way, showing his magnanimity by praising the other candidates’ strengths. If the other contenders insisit on targeting Su, it will be as effective as thumping a giant wad of cotton wool.