Since former premier William Lai’s (賴清德) unexpected announcement last month that he will challenge President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and seek the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) nomination for next year’s presidential election, his campaigning performance has been middling — it is impossible to discern any sense of mission, nor is it possible to detect any particular strengths. His statements are not as incisive as Premier Su Tseng-chang’s (蘇貞昌), nor is his reasoning as clear or as thorough Tsai’s.
DPP officials were ordered not to take sides, which made Lai’s supporters protest loudly. They can be divided into three groups, although with considerable overlap between them: pro-Taiwanese independence supporters, those who want a special pardon for former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and the “old green” camp, which is prejudiced against Tsai and displeased that she has appointed “old blue men” to her administration. They think they have reason to rebel and they are very loud.
The traditional pro-Taiwanese independence group supports Lai, because it thinks he is more pro-independence than Tsai, even making the mistake of thinking that he is an ally. His Harvard master’s degree of public health was a program for practicing physicians completed over three summer terms. Lai would have no chance to join the blacklisted independence camp. His definition of “pragmatic Taiwanese independence” is the same as the DPP’s Resolution on Taiwan’s Future.
Whether to issue a special pardon for Chen is a highly controversial issue. Chen has admitted that he made mistakes and quit the DPP, but he has not pleaded guilty. The lawsuits are not over yet, and Chen has not asked for a special pardon.
Some people have used former US president Gerald Ford’s presidential pardon of his predecessor, former US president Richard Nixon, as an example, but they do not mention that Ford and the Republicans suffered a crushing defeat in the following presidential election as a result.
After announcing his presidential bid, Lai said that Chen’s case was “a matter for the judiciary,” because he did not dare promise to grant Chen a special pardon.
People dissatisfied with former premier Lin Chuan (林全) recommended that he be succeeded by Lai, but Lai’s performance was also average. After the DPP’s defeats in the local elections last year, Tsai shouldered responsibility and tried to persuade Lai not to resign, but Lai insisted on “shouldering the responsibility.” His successor, Su, is doing a lot better than he did.
Now Lai wants to run for president to “shoulder the responsibility” — does anyone not find this a bit odd?
The selling point of Lai’s supporters is that he does better than Tsai in public opinion polls, but a public opinion poll is not an official mechanism, and the abuse of polls in Taiwan is scandalous. The two most popular people in public opinion polls are actually sharp-tongued and thick-skinned people who do not engage in honest work.
Some people use the example of the US to strengthen Lai’s legitimacy.
However, US parties’ presidential candidates are nominated through party member votes in publicly organized primaries, which is more representative of the party’s intentions.
Even if someone in the ruling party challenges a sitting president, it would not be a former Cabinet member.
Party politics is about the party’s shared philosophy, and a party would not win because of an individual hero’s sense of mission.
James Wang is a senior journalist.
Translated by Lin Lee-kai
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