After nearly four years of rebuilding a party that in 2008 had been reduced to a pale shadow of itself, former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) has good reason to worry about the direction the party seems to be taking since she stepped down.
While Tsai, for various reasons, failed in her bid to unseat President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) in the Jan. 14 election, she demonstrated her vision and maturity as party leader, a role she had assumed on May 20, 2008, the day Ma was first inaugurated.
On that day, few people would have thought that the DPP, after suffering resounding defeats in the legislative and presidential elections, and hit by scandals surrounding former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), could, a mere four years later, again present a credible challenge to Ma and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT).
Tsai accomplished just that, giving hope to many that the KMT would not go unchallenged in what are challenging times for Taiwan.
All those accomplishments are being threatened now by a party leadership battle that appears to have lost all sense of purpose and direction. Since Tsai stepped down as chairperson on March 1, the DPP has fallen into disarray, unable to propose any clear policies, while constantly resorting to all-out attacks against Ma and his policies.
This reflex action was taken to an extreme when DPP legislators announced they would seek to recall Ma with little more than a week left in his first term in office.
Although Ma’s popularity has fallen to record lows in recent weeks following a series of bungled policy proposals, the only thing that the pan-green camp achieved with its recall motion was to unify the KMT, which, facing a crisis of its own, was starting to show cracks in its foundations — including legislators jumping ship on important votes in the legislature.
Had the DPP acted with caution and maturity on the matter, if only by limiting itself to protests, the disunity within the KMT could have widened, which in turn would have allowed the pan-green camp to reach out to potential allies within the pan-blue camp. Now that opportunity seems lost and the pan-blue camp, seeing its leader under siege, has rallied around, scuttling any chance of credible, interdenominational pressure on the president and the executive.
Furthermore, by acting in this manner, the DPP is sounding like a sore loser and telling us that rather than rebuild itself — as it did over the previous four years — following its defeat in the January presidential election, it would resort to desperate measures, which is what the recall attempt certainly was.
As for the voices within the pan-green camp who, looking at Ma’s low popularity rating, argue that if an election were held today the DPP would win, they are missing the point altogether. Opinion polls are not elections and how one responds to each is contingent on very different considerations. Disliking Ma does not automatically translate into not voting for him and his party.
Ma’s unpopularity at the moment is the result of several things, a combination of ineptitude, yes, but also the necessity to make difficult decisions, such as raising fuel and electricity prices. Choices that the DPP, had it prevailed in January, would also likely have had to make.
For the future of this nation, the pan-green camp must abandon such self-defeating strategies, which can only alienate the various segments of the polity that it will depend on if it is ever to run the Presidential Office again. Let us hope that whoever is voted the next DPP chairman has the wisdom and ability to ensure that desperation does not aliment the party’s behavior.