Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) has been elected chairman of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), easily defeating his four rival candidates. However, as DPP chairman, he will have a lot of tricky problems to deal with.
Just about everyone is calling on Su to give top priority to seeking party unity, and he has solemnly pledged to do so. Indeed, even during the campaign for party chair, he departed from his usual overbearing manner and displayed a gracious demeanor. That is an admirable achievement for Su.
People are hoping that Su will have the vision to propose convincing forward-looking policies on cross-strait and economic issues. They would also like to see him handle relations with jailed former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) in an appropriate manner, and hope that he would bring about a new wave of reforms in the DPP. Su’s efforts in these respects can be seen from the things he said during the three policy debates between the candidates for the DPP chair.
However, Su’s biggest problem is maintaining unity while at the same time promoting reform. To maintain unity, he needs to look after all kinds of vested interests, but to promote reform he has to persuade a lot of people to give up vested interests, both tangible ones, such as party posts, and abstract ones, like values and policy directions.
The campaign for the DPP chair saw four candidates ganging up against one, which shows that Su’s support among party members is far from solid. The most obvious difference between Su and the other candidates was over the question of whether Chen should be granted amnesty. During the campaign, Chen urged the other candidates to join hands in resisting Su, and Chen’s supporters went around saying it would be bad for the DPP if Su were elected chairman.
That is not all. Chen’s supporters entered the fray as Taiwanese independence radicals, calling on all pro-independence proponents to form an alliance.
Some of Chen’s allies voiced strong support for sticking to a “one China” Constitution, as advocated by former DPP chairman Hsu Hsin-liang (許信良) and former premier Frank Hsieh (謝長廷), but then these two camps converged to attack Su on the Chen amnesty issue.
The real drama came when they failed to bring Su down, and it became increasingly likely that he would serve as party chairman for between two and four years. When that happened, Chen was the first to come out in support of Su. Now Chen and his supporters are following Su’s example in calling for unity and pouring cold water on the idea of nominating former DPP chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) as the party’s candidate in the 2016 presidential election.
Su’s task of building party unity will not get easier, and it might even get harder. All the other candidates called for an amnesty for Chen, so if any one of them had been elected, the DPP would have been inextricably bound up with Chen. Su is not in favor of an amnesty, so one would think that when he was elected, the DPP would not face the prospect of being tied up this way. However, Chen’s supporters are now warning that party unity depends entirely on how hard Su tries to get Chen out of jail. They clearly intend to keep hounding Su’s every move. Handling this will be a test of Su’s wisdom and determination.
Su has written quite a lot recently about cross-strait issues, and he deserves credit for his efforts in this regard. However, that does not mean that his ideas, as his supporters claim, have won widespread acceptance and approval. While he has given expression to a lot of ideas, some of them are contradictory.
For example, drawing a parallel with basketball star Jeremy Lin (林書豪), Su said that Taiwan should not let China score points, but he also said that efforts should be made to improve relations between the DPP and Beijing. The first of these two ideas represents a zero-sum game, while the second is only possible if there are mutual benefits involved, so how can the two ideas work together?
Su also predicts that China will continue to rise until it overtakes the US in power, while at the same time saying that he will hold fast to the DPP’s values and positions on national sovereignty. To maintain the latter position under the former conditions would be extraordinarily difficult, so what policies does Su propose to achieve it?
Su says that while the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) gave the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) a hand in January’s elections by using businesspeople to convey an economic threat, it was not the only reason the DPP lost at the polls. If that is so, what other, more important reasons were there, and what is to be done about them?
Su says the China which the DPP should get to know is not the economic China, but the bigger China that lies beyond its economy. He says that Taiwanese should get to know not just the China of the CCP, but also the China of ordinary people.
He also says that Taiwanese should help China to know Taiwan and the DPP better, because the DPP represents ordinary Taiwanese. However, China, with all its Taiwan affairs offices at various levels, all its institutes devoted to research on Taiwan and all the people who work in these places, has done more research on the DPP than the KMT has, and probably even more than the DPP has, at least in quantitative terms.
As can be seen, Su’s ideas on cross-strait relations are quite problematic.
However, the biggest problem facing Su is the difference of opinion within the DPP on China policy. That accounted for the wide swings in policies when Chen was president. Indeed, Chen’s cross-strait policies were so inconsistent that eventually both Taiwanese society and the international community no longer trusted him.
If Su wants to consolidate the different trends of thought in the DPP, but none of them is willing to concede to the others, then unity will be hard to achieve. How is Su going to reconcile what some people call the “KMT wannabe” with the “genuine DPP?”
A lot of people think that if Su passes the tests that await him in 2014, he will have a good chance of being elected to the country’s top post in 2016. However, one should not forget that the DPP handily won plenty of by-elections from 2009 until last year, but when it came to the big votes this year, it still lost. The key reason is that most people trust the DPP to handle local government, but they do not trust it in central government.
If the DPP wants to fix this problem, it will first have to tackle the twin tasks of unity and reform. Now the job of handling these tough tasks has been passed to Su. Judging by his performance at the DPP policy debates, he is still a long way from solving these problems.
Still, the debates did show that he is trying. The chance to tackle the DPP’s problems lies before him, and, as the saying goes, crisis and opportunity are two sides of the same coin.
Lin Cho-shui is a former Democratic Progressive Party legislator.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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