DPP needs to look over its record

By Lin Cho-Shui 林濁水  / 

Wed, Oct 08, 2008 - Page 8

After losses in the legislative and presidential elections, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) celebrated its 22nd anniversary on Sept. 28. With the onslaught of Super Typhoon Jangmi and the persistent financial scandal surrounding former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), it was not a good time to celebrate.

The DPP rose out of political and social movements in the 1980s. It has governed the nation and been voted out of office. At the age of 22, it is time to take stock and ask what the DPP has done for the nation.

These 22 years can be divided into four stages: The frenzied years from 1986 until 1992; the period of opposition, which began with the first free legislative elections in 1992; the eight-year Chen Shui-bian presidency; and the stage that began in May when Chen’s second term ended.

As a party representing the disadvantaged, the DPP promoted four main ideals when it started out: democracy, Taiwanese independence, caring for the disadvantaged and clean government. Before 1992, the DPP devoted all its efforts to breaking the ban on political parties and it played an instrumental role by influencing the election of the full legislature and direct presidential elections.

The establishment of the farmers insurance system and the movements for workers’ rights, the environment, educational rights and Aboriginal and women’s rights released the power of society from its shackles. The Taiwanese independence movement opened a new avenue for national identification.

The full-scale legislative elections resulted in direct presidential elections, abolition of the provincial government and welfare allowances for senior citizens and senior farmers. By the end of the 1990s, Taiwanese independence had entered mainstream opinion, thus laying the foundation for Chen’s election victory in 2000.

After Chen’s presidency, however, the anti-corruption slogans lost credibility, and even the contributions to democracy and Taiwanese independence seem to have shrunk. The eight years Chen was in office were permeated by bitter political battles between the DPP and the pan-blue camp. The DPP even initiated the preposterous constitutional amendment that cut the number of legislative seats in half. This proposal was eventually passed as a result of democratic developments.

During his first four years in office, Chen led Taiwan away from independence based on the “four noes and one not” policy. During the last four years, he took rash and premature steps toward independence and implemented more aggressive diplomatic tactics.

Both approaches were detrimental to Taiwanese independence. This was a strange situation and difficult to imagine. All the party’s contributions to democracy and Taiwanese independence occurred before it came to power, while everything it did once in power had a negative affect on these goals.

The power transfer in 2000 created an opportunity for people with ability and ideals to enter the political system and start to put their dreams into action. While the president and the leading DPP politicians focused all their energy on political conflict, these talented people put their expertise to use in areas they were not very familiar with.

Looking back today, the most surprising achievements are the establishment of national business policy and a social security system.

Not too long ago, the US magazine Business Week reported that the competitiveness of Taiwan’s information-technology industry had risen from sixth in the world to second place, just behind the US, and to first place in terms of research and development environment. These achievements are not based on sheer luck. In the 1990s, the technology policies of Vincent Siew (蕭萬長) as minister of economic affairs from 1990 to 1993 and premier from 1997 to 2000 — encouraged original equipment manufacturing of hardware at the expense of innovation, research and development, and brand development.

For example, integrated circuit design and software companies were not only discouraged but even hassled if they applied to be listed on the stock exchange. They were not allowed to set up factories in the Hsinchu Science Park, either. These policies, which punished innovators, were overturned by people such as former Council for Economic Planning and Development chairman Chen Po-chih (陳博志) and former ministers of economic affairs Lin Hsin-yi (林信義) and Ho Mei-yueh (何美玥), who promoted the ideals of a green silicon island and a knowledge-based economy.

The major economic policies of 2001 sought to replace Siew’s vision of an Asia-Pacific regional operations center with a vision of Taiwan as a research and development center. The research and development skills and effective brand marketing of Taiwan’s manufacturers is reflected in the Acer Eee PC and Mio and HTC smart phones, which have become hits internationally. The report in Business Week reflects these developments. During the same period of time, we have seen great developments in areas such as lifestyle, cinema and luxury products.

Although Chen Shui-bian’s heavy involvement in the second stage of financial reforms sparked heated debate, we must not forget that the first stage of reform — despite the KMT’s constant resistance — managed to erase the NT$1.7 trillion (US$52.4 billion) in debt that Siew left behind. Yet this achievement was demonized by the KMT, and Chen Shui-bian, who did not understand its worth, disregarded the effort and even forced Chen Po-chih and Lin to step down, while supporting Siew and Chiang Pin-kung (江丙坤). Essentially the president lent credence to the KMT’s demonization of the DPP’s reforms.

Although Chen Shui-bian ordered the Economic Development Advisory Conference in 2001 to “first get the economy up and running and worry about social welfare later on,” the Council of Labor Affairs still managed to push for many laws that had been blocked by the government in the 1990s, such as the Protective Act for Mass Redundancy of Employees (大量解僱勞工保護法), the Employment Insurance Act (就業保險法) and the National Pension Act (國民年金法), with the help of the Cabinet.

These developments, together with the already established National Health Insurance, helped lay the foundation for a modern social security system and promoted the vision of a “shared community” espoused by Lee Teng-hui (李登輝).

During this time, Chen Shui-bian’s only major contribution was balancing the DPP’s political support in the north and south. But support later shifted against Chen and the DPP in the south. Looking back on the last eight years, it is evident that the issues the government focused on, such as constitutional reform and diplomacy, all regressed, while they accomplished progress in areas they did not focus on. This is exceptionally odd.

At this dark time in the DPP’s history and on its 22nd birthday, one can only hope that the party will take a good look at its past and learn from its decline. It must reassess past successes, monitor the new administration, offer a vision for the future and walk down that path alongside the public.

Lin Cho-shui is a former Democratic Progressive Party legislator.