To shoulder political responsibility for her party’s loss in last month’s presidential and legislative elections, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) announced she would resign by the end of this month.
Before stepping down, Tsai, who was the DPP’s presidential candidate, instructed her staff to research and report on why the DPP failed to regain administrative power — including the way President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) government mobilized China-based Taiwanese businesspeople to come back and vote for the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), as well as the maneuvering of the so-called “1992 consensus” by the KMT and its Chinese counterpart in the last minute and how that translated into declining support for Tsai.
While the KMT and some local media outlets have branded Ma’s victory as a referendum on the “1992 consensus,” some DPP members have also expressed anxiety over whether the opposition should initiate an internal debate on the direction of the party’s China policy.
One line of thought argues that Tsai’s notion of establishing a “Taiwan consensus” during the campaign was too vague, allowing the KMT to play up the “instability card” in the final stage of the presidential race, aided by a series of public comments by a number of Taiwanese business tycoons, Chinese officials and US academics.
According to various internal polls, the KMT’s last-minute “terror card” successfully scared middle-of-the-road-voters out of Tsai’s camp. That enlarged the razor-thin gap between Tsai and Ma into a 6 percent difference. Ma’s camp also successfully marginalized People First Party Chairman James Soong’s (宋楚瑜) share of the vote from the KMT side.
Supporters of this line have therefore urged the party to review its China policy immediately and consider accepting the “one China constitution” model — recognizing the Constitution of the Republic of China as an alternative to the DPP’s “1999 Resolution Regarding Taiwan’s Future” — or the KMT’s “one China, with different interpretations.”
Another school of thought opposes the above stance, insisting that various elements contributed to Tsai’s defeat and the China factor is only one of them. The DPP should not jump to the conclusion that Tsai’s reluctance to clarify her China policy or provide an alternative scenario to the KMT’s “1992 consensus” was the only reason for her defeat.
This camp advocates that the DPP should focus more on reviewing all elements related to the results and wait for the selection of a new chairperson in May to discuss the direction of the party’s future China policy.
The preliminary debate on whether the DPP should immediately adjust its China policy direction requires more careful and strategic thinking.
The upcoming chairpersonship election is expected to be overshadowed by factional maneuverings, making it hard for all competitors to engage in a serious discussion of the party’s China policy. Tsai’s influence also remains significant — at least in the near future. Her “Ten-Year Party Platform” is viewed by her supporters as a major achievement of her chairpersonship. Any attempts to revise or challenge it will face a backlash from Tsai’s camp.
Furthermore, the next seven-in-one local elections are scheduled to be held in late 2014, meaning Taiwan will enjoy an election-free period for at least two years. It constitutes an important timeframe for the DPP to rejuvenate itself through serious policy re-examination. It also constitutes the main job for the next DPP chairperson.
Whoever has their eyes on the position should refrain from thinking about the 2016 presidential nomination.
Finally, that Tsai garnered 6.09 million votes is a reminder for Ma that he cannot simply ignore the opposition when he tries to move further toward China in his second term.
Ma admitted, after the election, that he needed to conduct a self-examination on why he lost more than 1 million votes this time. Persuasion and communication with the public are the best strategy for Ma to fulfill his pledge of generating a domestic consensus in the next four years.
Since Ma has promised to invite leaders from different parties to discuss cross-strait policy every six months, the new DPP chairperson will have to be well-prepared to present the opposition’s views by then.
Therefore, the mission for the next DPP chairperson is not about winning the 2016 presidential election; it is more about how to open up democratic debates and engage in self-reflection on the party’s key policies.
Whether to come up with an alternative cross-strait resolution to meet global challenges and changes in cross-strait developments will depend on the wisdom, patience and skills of the new DPP chairperson.
Liu Shih-chung is a senior research fellow at the Taipei-based Taiwan Brain Trust.