Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) supporters are feeling a sense of crisis after the party's loss of Taipei County, Ilan County, Changhua County and Chiayi City in the Dec. 3 local government elections -- all previous DPP territory. These concerns, together with a power struggle within the party and President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) inability to set the tone for the elections, have thrown the DPP into a state of dispirited confusion. After defeats in the legislative and local government elections, it is difficult to believe that this is the same DPP government that helped Chen win re-election last year.
Putting aside the slightly more than 50 percent of the vote that Chen received in last year's presidential election, the 42 percent of the vote the DPP gained in the local elections was only a 3 percent drop compared with its previous performance.
However, the effect of one-seat elections caused its number of city and county seats to dwindle drastically. We can conclude that the DPP managed only an average performance in contrast to previous campaigns.
The DPP's victory in last year's presidential election and its hold on the executive have perhaps caused many to expect too much of the party in legislative and local government elections. The DPP and its supporters must come to their senses. The fact that it was able to garner more than half of the vote in the presidential elections is no guarantee that it will perform just as well in other races.
If the DPP had hoped to take advantage of the central government's resources to achieve change, the possibility of success was always rather small. The DPP's increased vote in Miaoli, Penghu and Yunlin counties in the recent elections is a function of integration with local political factions rather than Chen's charisma or any central government pledge to improve these counties' infrastructure.
It is noteworthy that while the DPP could barely maintain its overall popularity, the KMT brought Keelung City and Changhua and Nantou counties under its belt, successfully integrating various political factions and consolidating support. These changes in the two parties' popularity is clear: If the pan-blue camp can only unite, the DPP will be confined to the country's south.
The question is, can we apply this local blueprint to a presidential election? In a presidential poll, the entire nation is one big electoral district. There may be cutthroat competition at a local level, but voters do not think about local issues in a presidential election, rather concerning themselves with the nation as a whole. One cannot assume, therefore, that just because the pan-blue camp has taken Ilan County and Chiayi City that these areas will color themselves blue in the next presidential race.
All of this shows that the DPP has failed to redraw the political map on the legislative or city and county levels. The opposite is true, for last year's presidential election led to a polarization of the electorate -- a very unfortunate consequence. The result of this is that the north of the country is now even more securely in the grip of the pan-blue camp.
In terms of votes won, DPP Taipei County commissioner candidate Luo Wen-chia (
The DPP's latest defeats cannot be blamed on partisan reporting in the press, nor on internal power struggles. Responsibility lies with the party's failure to recognize the cost of polarization brought about by last year's presidential elections. This has made it difficult for the DPP to attract more than half of the vote in legislative and local elections during Chen's term.
The question, then, is what will happen at the next presidential election? The only option open to the party now is to convince more of Chen's supporters to come out on the day and vote.
Hsu Yung-ming is a research fellow at the Research Center for Humanities and Social Sciences at Academia Sinica.
Translated by Daniel Cheng and Paul Cooper