DPP must seek unity at congress

By Liu Shih-chung 劉世忠  / 

Tue, Jan 18, 2011 - Page 8

The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is expected to pass new candidate nomination rules for the next legislative and presidential elections at its party congress on Saturday. As a result, those who have their eye on the 2012 presidential contest will need to come up with different strategies to optimize their chance of victory in the wake of the changing rules of the game.

A majority in the DPP favor selecting a presidential candidate solely on the basis of “public polls,” as the best way to avoid the previous internal splits that have resulted from combining a direct vote by registered party members and polling results.

Potential competitors who enjoy less national popularity have insisted on maintaining the mixed system. Former vice president Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) is the leading figure opposing any rule change and has also demanded a series of internal debates between potential candidates as an additional measure.

Faced with growing pressure for the DPP to elaborate on its policy toward China, other contenders such as former premier and presidential candidate Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) have thrown their hats into the ring even before the party primary gets under way.

Hsieh recently advocated a theory of “separate constitutional interpretation” as a political basis for the DPP to resume dialogue with the People’s Republic of China.

This was an elaboration of an earlier proposal he made that it might be possible to use the “constitutional one China” framework to define Taiwan’s status quo as “an independent Republic of China.”

Lu has come out in support of a so-called “1996 consensus” — the completion of the first direct presidential election — as her preferred manifestation of Taiwan’s de facto independence.

In addition to electoral concerns related to the presidential primary, Hsieh and Lu have also both expressed the need to redefine the “cross-strait consensus” as a result of political pressures from the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Immediately consolidating his leadership over the KMT, following the “symbolic victory” of securing three seats in November’s five special municipality elections, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) launched a new campaign to force DPP leaders to accept the so-called “1992 consensus” as the legitimate political basis for cross-strait negotiations.

DPP Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) once said that her party would “continue the cross-strait policies implemented by the former government if the DPP regains power in 2012.” Ma has taken advantage of that position to urge Tsai to accept the “1992 consensus” as the basis for KMT-CCP negotiations on the existing 15 agreements between Taiwan and China. Ma also erroneously suggested that both China and the US government accept the “1992 consensus,” despite Beijing having its own definition of the consensus and Washington never having recognized it as an element in its “one China” policy.

Despite the DPP’s official rejection of the “1992 consensus” as non-existent and simply a fabrication by former Mainland Affairs Council chief Su Chi (蘇起) in 2000, Ma’s maneuverings have sparked a political fire and a potential split within the DPP.

Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) Chairman Chen Yunlin (陳雲林) also warned that if “the DPP refuses to accept the 1992 consensus, China might have to reconsider its economic policy toward Taiwan,” implying that cross-strait relations could be damaged were the DPP to disregard the “1992 consensus.”

This clearly shows that the KMT and CCP are working together to force the DPP to frame its debate over China policy in terms that refer to the “1992 consensus” and the “one China” principle.

How should the DPP react to such a challenge?

The party has three choices. The first is to accept the “1992 consensus,” but few DPP leaders are willing do so.

The second approach is to redefine the consensus that was reached between the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) and ARATS in 1992. The administration of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) once used the term “1992 spirit” as a replacement for “1992 consensus” in late 2004, with the hope of resuming political talks with China.

Another example is Hsieh’s re-characterization of his earlier “constitutionally one China” formula into a more flexible phrase that accepts “separate constitutional interpretations with implicit acceptance of one China.” Both approaches have met with heavy criticism from within the pan-green camp and China may not want to deal with them either.

The last option is to be more patient and pragmatic in forging domestic consensus, thereby avoiding the need to jump into a potentially damaging debate over the “1992 consensus” before the presidential campaign starts.

If the DPP’s chances of winning the 2012 presidential election increase, Beijing will have to reach a new political understanding with the party. The two sides should increase communication through think tank channels or indirect conversations. It is still too early for the DPP to show its cards.

Liu Shih-chung is a senior research fellow at the Taipei-based Taiwan Brain Trust.