The stage has been set for the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) chairmanship election, paving the way for a three-way race in May between Chairman Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌), his predecessor Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), and former premier Frank Hsieh (謝長廷), after Tsai last week officially declared her bid.
Widely seen as the prelude to the party’s presidential nomination for the 2016 elections, the chairmanship race means more after a deeper look into the party and its strategic position in Taiwan’s future.
The chairman-elect would inevitably face at least three challenges in their two-year tenure.
First, the DPP would have to engage in some type of reform, with priority goals being a youth movement and an end to factionalism.
For, despite former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) announcing the elimination of factionalism almost 10 years ago, it still continues. Mafia-like factions based on loyalty to specific politicians, rather than political ideology, have become one of the primary reasons for the party’s failure to move forward.
Once the destination for young politicians with progressive ideas, the DPP has become a party with “old faces” who will not let go, 28 years after the party’s establishment.
Perhaps the younger membership should shoulder some of the blame for their lack of ambition and actions. Nonetheless, the issue has to be addressed quickly because the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), with its massive party assets and resources, is now far ahead in terms of cultivating younger politicians.
Second, the DPP suddenly found that it was labeled as an “undemocratic” and “regressive” party by social advocates and civic groups — its longstanding allies over the past two decades — because of what they called its loss of ideals and innocence since the party won power in 2000, and in particular in the past two years.
On many social issues, including the anti-nuclear movement, resistance to the concentration of media and labor affairs, the advocates said the DPP offers more “rhetoric” than “action” and has “lost its connection” with society, which was why its support rate has not increased much despite people’s resentment of President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration.
Third and most important, the DPP’s soul-searching about one of its core values — Taiwan’s independence — is likely to continue in pursuit of a China policy that can convince DPP members and other Taiwanese that the party can safeguard Taiwan’s sovereignty and democracy at the same time as providing economic benefits.
The DPP has made efforts in this regard in its series of discussions about “adjusting” its China policy, often described as the party’s “last mile” before returning to power, following the bitter loss of the 2012 presidential election.
However, there remains no solution in sight as two groups within the party constantly argue over how to deal with the Chinese Communist Party and whether to freeze the party’s independence clause, together with whether there should be “complete recognition” of the Republic of China.
With no internal consensus, seeking consensus with the KMT and among Taiwanese is impossible.
Embracing and tackling the three challenges will be easier said than done, since the resolution of these issues involves major changes, such as an overhaul of the party’s structure, sacrificing short-term personal gains and thorough deliberation of the future of the party and Taiwan not just two years down the road, but far beyond.