Following an intense battle between the five candidates in the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairperson elections, former premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) won by a landslide on Sunday with more than 50 percent of the vote. This is not the first time Su has led the DPP.
Although the DPP lost in the Jan. 14 presidential election, given its pretty strong performance and President President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) currently low popularity ratings, the party’s prospects are looking up and Su’s return to the spotlight will attract increasing attention.
Su’s political experience is second to none. He was a member of the Taiwan Provincial Assembly, a county commissioner twice, a legislator, DPP secretary-general, party chairman, secretary-general of the Presidential Office and also, of course, premier. While in those positions, Su produced results and he continues to be popular with the public. He is also politically astute and his return to the party leadership will make him even more powerful.
The joint attack on Su by the other candidates in the chairperson election was both ugly and unfair, but Su remained gracious and refused to rise to the bait. While this earned him considerable sympathy, it also means that his first task as party chair must be to unite the party internally. He must take solid steps to resolve intra-party tension to be able to lead the DPP forward.
Su is a man of integrity who is both strict and impartial and he possesses boundless energy. These are all good traits in a leader; but as party chairperson he will need to adopt a softer approach and learn how to compromise and communicate both within and outside the party. He will have to adjust his style to be able to unite the different factions and organize a team that will be able to bring the party back into government.
The most heavily criticized aspect of the chairpersonship vote was that the debates between candidates focused on personalities and the unification-independence issue. Very little time was spent discussing the policies that have been the target of so much public criticism, and this did nothing to create an image of a party that is ready to take over government.
Su will need to create a positive image for the party and have it conduct itself in a manner consistent with its status as the largest opposition party. The DPP cannot content itself with government-bashing. It has experience in government and Su has served as premier. Neither can it simply criticize the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) policies without offering viable alternatives.
Su needs to form a shadow Cabinet and to bring together academics, think tanks and senior party members who can formulate concrete social policies to compete with those of the KMT. This is how he can prepare his troops for the next election, and win the support of the public.
Former party chairperson Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) electoral defeat has caused the DPP to question whether it needs to amend its China policy. This area has been contentious ever since the party was formed and there has never really been consensus on what it should be, forcing Tsai to come up with a “Taiwan consensus” during her presidential campaign.
That campaign is now over. Su doesn’t have a lot of time to come up with a new stance on the issue of independence or unification. Consensus already exists on the 1999 Resolution on Taiwan’s Future (台灣前途決議文), and again, there is no rush to amend this. However, the party does need to adopt a more practical position vis-a-vis China, with a more flexible policy. It needs to do more research into the China question and not unquestioningly dismiss contact with China. This will show both the KMT and the Chinese Communist Party that the DPP has an important part to play in cross-strait relations.