Just when President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) seems to be doing nothing right — which is why he and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) are mired in misery — the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) appears to be experiencing the same problem, something the 26-year-old party has never faced before.
The task at hand for the DPP is unprecedented: How to assure Taiwanese during this two-year period without a major national election that it is trustworthy and reformed, and deserves an opportunity to govern again.
The DPP has always thrived during election campaigns, when it could attack the KMT with abandon on many fronts, such as the KMT’s authoritarian history, illegal party assets, vote-buying and its oppression of Taiwanese. The DPP is not only known for its pinpoint agenda-setting, but also for its creative strategies during elections. Even the KMT would likely admit that the DPP has always been better at utilizing its fewer resources for greater gains during elections.
That stage is not available to the DPP until the “seven-in-one” elections to be held late next year, although there could still be some by-elections for it to practice on.
Halfway through this “moratorium period,” the party, under the leadership of DPP Chairman Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌), is struggling to win back the public’s confidence with the same momentum the KMT enjoyed during the DPP’s low ebb between 2006 and 2008. The DPP has recently made a pair of bold — yet questionable — moves that could come back to haunt it, given the mixed reactions to them within the party.
First, Su announced the launch of a recall movement against KMT lawmakers and Ma over their perceived failure to listen to the public and their poor performances. Second, he hinted that an anti-nuclear referendum in New Taipei City (新北市) should be combined with local elections next year so that it could receive stronger support and be passed.
Both proposals seem legitimate, since Ma has mishandled all of his reform plans, and KMT lawmakers have equivocated between what Ma wants and what the public wants, and an anti-nuclear referendum would need to exceed a high approval threshold in order to stop the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in Gongliao District (貢寮), New Taipei City, becoming operational. So, why did these two proposals receive mixed reviews?
It appears that Taiwanese are so pragmatic that they do not want to waste time now on something which cannot possibly be achieved, such as recalling Ma. As for recalling KMT lawmakers, some DPP members fear that the move could trigger a KMT counterattack of recalling DPP lawmakers, which could eventually lead to an all-out political war between the two parties.
Additionally, while holding referendums in tandem with major elections has been common in other democracies, the practice has been stigmatized in Taiwan by portraying it as a tool to incite “duels” between parties, which the public may not favor.
This characterizes the DPP’s dilemma during this two-year period. The party can neither afford to sit and wait for Ma to fail, nor do anything that might make people think — or help the KMT to spread the idea — that it opposes things merely for the sake of opposition. The DPP’s predicament has been highlighted by its own recent survey that showed that the party’s support was higher than the KMT’s for the first time since 2005, and for the third time in its history, while both parties failed to surpass 26 percent approval ratings.
Facing this unprecedented challenge, the DPP perhaps needs to forget about its nemesis for two years, take a look at itself in the mirror and think about what has brought the party this far since Sept. 28, 1986. It needs to learn to fight a war without its enemy weighing on its mind the whole time.