With survey after survey showing abysmal numbers, it is by now pretty clear that the general sentiment regarding the performance of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and his Cabinet is overwhelmingly negative. While the opposition sees such dissatisfaction as a tremendous opportunity to regain power, it would be a grave mistake to assume that the current situation will automatically translate into votes for them.
Above all, the public feels it has been let down by Ma and his less-than-stellar group of Cabinet officials, and the willingness of Taiwanese to continue buying Ma’s promises about a brighter future is wearing thin. One can only wait so long for Godot.
As Ma’s popularity rating approaches the single-digit zone, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is naturally feeling elated, seeing this as a sign of possible major gains in the seven-in-one elections in 2014 and the more distant presidential election in 2016.
However, while this indeed creates an opportunity for the DPP, it also adds new responsibilities, including the need for the pan-green camp to give Taiwanese hope about the future of their nation. Simply bashing the president when he is at his most vulnerable, or calling for a Cabinet reshuffle, is not enough. In fact, doing so would probably ensure that, low numbers notwithstanding, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) will perform better than expected in 2014 and prevail again in 2016.
Giving hope entails presenting policy alternatives that are clearly communicated to the public and relevant to people’s welfare. Making headway will involve a thorough, and by no means easy, rejuvenation of the party through new leadership that looks to the future rather than the past. For this to come about, the party will need to be led not by extraordinary individuals who did extraordinary things 30 years ago, but by young people, whose future and country are shaped by the decisions made today.
The DPP will have to do much more to cultivate young talent, and youth programs that involve top-down lecturing by party officials — which tends to permanently turn young people off politics — is not how to go about it. It is of little surprise that the ongoing student mobilization against media monopolization — the largest and most comprehensive youth movement in three decades — has remained distant from political parties, including the DPP, which shares their concerns about freedom of speech.
No doubt, the KMT is equally inept at attracting young talent, and its potential candidates for 2016 are rather underwhelming. This would be comforting if all things were equal, but that is the problem — all things are not equal. The DPP does not have the advantage of money and it never will. The personal fortune of Ma’s diplomat-at-large, former vice president Lien Chan (連戰), alone is several times that of the entire pan-green camp, while the disparity in resources between the KMT and the DPP simply boggles the mind. What the DPP therefore needs is the advantage of ideas.
If the DPP is to become a truly relevant party for current and future young generations of Taiwanese, it will have to find ways to appeal to them and give youth the respect they deserve. Only by joining the political experience that comes with age with the idealism and creativity of young minds will the twain come together to present the kind of front that can truly defeat the KMT and meet the challenges presented by China.
The future leaders are among us now, but a longstanding tradition of paternalism is preventing them from finding their voice. One person seems to understand the need to reach out to young people, to inspire them and to equip them with the wisdom that comes with experience. In recent weeks, former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) has toured school campuses to talk and listen to students, and above all to give them hope. For the sake of the DPP’s — and Taiwan’s — future, this is well worth emulating.