Not many people were surprised when People First Party (PFP) Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) announced his candidacy for next year’s presidential election. The media are in a frenzy discussing the “James Soong effect,” and experts everywhere are busy analyzing how it could affect the campaigns of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) presidential candidate Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱).
The “dump-save” effect, or strategic voting, is becoming the focus of attention — but who is it that would be dumped by voters to save the other? A more important concern is Soong’s ploy of proposing a grand coalition government and what other possibilities Soong’s camp might offer.
Soong put forward the idea of a coalition government because he has said absolute power results in absolute corruption, which is why a coalition government is justified. However, the premise is that Soong is set to prevail over Tsai and Hung in the presidential race and ask for the other parties’ cooperation, which hardly anyone believes is set to happen, and therefore little attention has been given to the idea. However, the most intriguing part of this idea is that it leaves some room for the possibility that Tsai and the DPP would form a coalition government with the PFP should Tsai win the election.
To suggest cooperation between the PFP — a pan-blue party — and the DPP is perhaps something that the general public would look on with disdain or sniff at, but collaboration between adversaries based on shared interests is commonplace. Japan has, to the surprise of many commentators, had such an alliance for more than 20 years.
The latter half of the 1950s and the first half of the 1990s were marked by a long-standing political rivalry between Japan’s two main parties, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and Social Democratic Party (SDP). This period has been labelled the “1955 System.” The LDP was home to the conservatives, while the SDP was the realm of reform-minded left-wingers and the ideologies of one were poles apart from the other. However, these two parties, members of which could barely stand to be in the same room, miraculously established a grand coalition government in 1994.
The reason was none other than the result of calculation of both parties’ self-interest. For the LDP, teaming up with its old foe, the SDP, helped it regain power in the next term; for the SDP, it was a chance for Japan to reconcile with its Asian neighbors. The result was the Murayama Statement issued by then-Japanese prime minister Tomiichi Murayama in 1995, and its influence has lasted until today.
In 1999, one year after the coalition government between the LDP and the SDP ended, the LDP, which had just been returned to power, formed a coalition government with the pacifist Komeito, a party that had not got along with the LDP for a long time. The LDP did so to ensure that the coalition would secure more than half of the seats in both the upper and lower houses of the Diet. The Komeito, which used to be criticized by the LDP for blending politics with religion, did so to capitalize on the protection from the LDP to ensure the stable development of the party and to use its participation in the government to counterbalance the LDP’s impulsive nature.
Because the Komeito has kept the LDP in check, three conditions were added to Japan’s rights to collective self-defense, an issue that has aroused a lot of controversy since last year. These three conditions greatly reduce the possibility of Japanese military engagement abroad.
After a chaotic three-year rule by the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), the LDP won a landslide victory in the elections to the lower house in late 2012. Despite the victory, the LDP was still willing to team up with the Komeito with the purpose of gaining the two-thirds of support needed in both the upper and lower houses required to amend Japan’s constitution. Both parties have their individual needs in mind, and it is this that has kept the alliance alive for as long as 13 years.
In view of Japan’s experience, if Tsai wins the presidential election but the PFP performs significantly better in the legislative election, a coalition government comprised of the DPP and the PFP would be possible. Keep in mind that the DPP has never had an absolute legislative majority. Even though this might be the first time that the DPP could gain such a majority, it still has to entertain the possibility of cooperating with other parties or alliances in order to revise the Constitution and maintain Taiwan’s political stability.
However, to realize the dream of a DPP-PFP coalition government, one requirement must be met — the two parties must reach a compromise or consensus on major policies through negotiations. Soong declared his middle ground principle in his candidacy announcement and Tsai has said she plans to develop cross-strait relations under the Constitution of the Republic of China. Tsai’s stance has a lot in common with Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je’s (柯文哲) and the party line of Soong’s PFP.
If Tsai can establish a coalition government with the PFP after winning the presidency, the greatest advantage would be a stabilized cross-strait relationship, as the PFP could help ease tensions with China. As for the PFP, an alliance with the DPP would keep it from being further marginalized and allow it a way to survive. Each party could meet its own needs — how could they say no?
Taiwan’s politics require a new way of thinking. A coalition government might just be the answer needed to stabilize the political climate when the dust settles in next year’s elections.
John Lim is an associate research fellow at Academia Sinica’s Institute of Modern History and an adjunct associate professor at National Taiwan University.
Translated by Ethan Zhan
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