The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has echoed criticism that President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) is a “bumbler” and attacked his refusal to set aside political antagonism and call a national affairs conference to resolve the nation’s problems.
However, when the party looks at itself in the mirror, it sees another Ma.
The DPP has mostly bumbled along since losing the presidential election, and meaningful conversation between party heavyweights seems too much to ask.
There is no better example of this than the establishment of the party’s China Affairs Committee and the quarrel over its “new” China policy, both of which are critical for the party to return to power in 2016.
Regarding China, everything except for the necessity of closer cross-strait engagement is a matter of debate, especially after former premier Frank Hsieh’s (謝長廷) landmark visit, where he submitted his proposal of “constitutions with different interpretations (憲法各表).”
Numerous issues have been raised by Hsieh and others, who have asked whether the DPP still supports Taiwanese independence, whether the party recognizes the Constitution, the urgency of formulating a new China policy and what the party’s “real” China policy is.
Regarding the much-anticipated China Affairs Committee, which DPP Chairman Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) pledged to set up during the party chairmanship election campaign, what party members care about most is who would lead it, and who would sit on it.
The friction between Su and Hsieh has been heatedly discussed, with former DPP chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) also dragged into their power games.
Some have also argued about the name of the committee and suggested replacing “China” with “cross-strait” or “mainland” to show goodwill to the Chinese.
Although great importance has been placed on the DPP’s China policy and on its China Affairs Committee, it was personal agendas and a factional fight for power rather than discussions about how the party would engage China that have dominated a process which was supposed to transform the party.
The DPP has talked of engaging Beijing “proactively with supreme confidence” as being crucial for its development, but it was political infighting and moments of self-doubt that stood out over the past 10 months.
Su’s announcement of the establishment of the committee and his doubling as its convener on Wednesday did not look like the end of the argument, but instead opened a new front in the war between party factions.
It remains to be seen if Hsieh chooses to walk his own path after not being appointed as committee chairman. Also worth watching will be the reactions of Tsai and the staunchly pro-independence wing of the party, among them former premier Yu Shyi-kun (游錫堃) and several peripheral groups, which remain influential among DPP supporters.
The worst-case scenario for the party would be all-out war between rival factions and a prolonged process of transformation.
Domestically, while the DPP has unveiled its plan of a “sensible economy” to promote fairness of distribution, local industrial development and employment — policies that pointed out what Ma has not addressed — it has failed to convince the public that it would be a better ruling party next time around.
Too often it has lamented its minority in the legislature, which it says is why DPP lawmakers cannot get anything moving. While the claim is legitimate, the party caucus should go on the offensive with initiatives that would resonate with the public rather than always playing a passive, defensive role.
The last thing the public want to see is that the DPP only knows how to criticize Ma but cannot set an agenda of its own and come up with proposals to make Taiwan a better country.
The DPP will need to be consolidated, strong and assertive in the face of major challenges from China and a sluggish economy in order to win power back.
The public also want it to be that way.