Although there are more than three months to go until president-elect Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) is sworn in as president, the quick response from her and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) following the earthquake that hit southern Taiwan shows the party is ready to govern the nation.
When the earthquake hit at 3:57am yesterday, several buildings collapsed in Tainan, and Mayor William Lai (賴清德) quickly arrived at the scene of the disaster to coordinate rescue efforts.
Although most DPP members had left on Friday evening for the Lunar New Year holiday, the party’s emergency response system was activated before daybreak, when people in relatively unaffected areas were still asleep.
A little after 7am, Tsai issued orders to local governments headed by the DPP, as well as local party chapters, to step up efforts to assist rescue efforts.
At 8:30am, Tsai, vice president-elect Chen Chien-jen (陳建仁) and DPP Secretary-General Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) were at party headquarters in Taipei to discuss disaster relief measures, before Wu headed to Tainan to coordinate rescue efforts.
Tsai announced that she would cancel all scheduled Lunar New Year events from tomorrow through Thursday, and the party donated NT$1 million (US$29,833) for disaster relief.
By that time, DPP-run local governments across the nation had dispatched more than 300 rescue workers to join the efforts to search for survivors in the early hours of the morning.
The central government also mobilized rescue efforts, including opening the Central Emergency Operations Center, while President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and Premier Simon Chang (張善政) went to Tainan to inspect the quake-hit areas.
While it is part of the government’s job to respond quickly when disasters hit, it is surprising to see that the DPP — formally an opposition party — could coordinate resources and deliver them to the disaster area so quickly.
More importantly, Tsai’s decision to remain in Taipei and send Wu instead of traveling to Tainan herself as many political leaders — such as Ma — would do, shows that she cares about helping the victims, not appearing before cameras.
It definitely “looks good” when political leaders show up at disaster areas to show that they care, but when leaders like the president or the president-elect do so, it often makes disaster scenes even more disastrous.
When a president or a president-elect travels, they have to be escorted by dozens of security personnel. In addition, before and during their visits, national security staffers as well as local police officers have to inspect the places they intend to visit and accompany them as they appear before the public.
Such moves only disrupt rescue efforts, as some rescue workers might have to stop what they are doing to provide security for the leaders and emergency vehicles might need to give way to the presidential motorcade.
One of the best known examples of how government officials’ “inspections” of disaster areas might lead to more trouble was seen when then-president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) took a helicopter to meet with victims in Nantou County after the 921 Earthquake in 1999.
When his helicopter landed, the wind from the propeller blew away the tents used by survivors as temporary shelters and blew down a tree, killing one girl.
Tsai’s ability to coordinate efforts within the party separately from the government and her decision not to travel to the disaster area show that the DPP is ready to govern.