Party conflict drives away voters

By Bruce Jacobs  / 

Thu, Feb 13, 2014 - Page 8

Australian voters recently taught us a political lesson which Taiwan’s political parties should heed: Voters will not elect a political party that cannot govern itself.

This applies even to parties that have significant achievements.

The Australian Labor Party won the government in the election of Nov. 24, 2007, defeating a conservative Coalition government that had been in power for 11 years. The Labor government of then-prime minister Kevin Rudd had major successes in meeting the challenges of the global financial crisis and it made an important and long overdue apology to Australia’s indigenous peoples. Yet, Rudd micromanaged and did not consult with his Cabinet ministers.

As a result, key people in the Labor Party overthrew Rudd, replacing him with then-deputy prime minister Julia Gilliard on June 23, 2010. This was the first time in Australian history that a prime minister had been thrown out during his first term of office.

Gilliard, in addition to being the nation’s first woman prime minister, continued the Labor Party’s good record in office. The economy remained in good shape and very important legislation to support people with disabilities was enacted.

The Gilliard government barely won re-election on Aug. 21, 2010, requiring the support of independents in parliament. Rudd took on the foreign affairs portfolio, but he continued to undermine the government. He finally resigned from the Cabinet on Feb. 22, 2012, and challenged Gilliard for the party leadership —unsuccessfully — on Feb. 27. Despite being decisively defeated, Rudd continued to criticize the government from behind the scenes.

Gilliard called another leadership election on June 26 last year with the provision that the loser would leave parliament. With an impending election, Rudd defeated Gilliard and returned to the prime minister’s office.

Rudd ran a good campaign, though again there was criticism of his micromanagement and failure to follow through on commitments. Despite its good record in government, Australian voters comprehensively defeated the Labor government in the election of Sept. 7 last year. Although the Coalition team had very few policies and incompetent potential ministers, Australian voters supported it because it had demonstrated that it could rule itself.

Clearly, both the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) have shown voters that they lack an ability to govern themselves. President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) attack on Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) shows division within the KMT, as do more subtle criticisms of the president from Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌)and New Taipei City (新北市) Mayor Eric Chu (朱立倫). Clearly, Vice President Wu Den-yih (吳敦義), who opposed the attack on Wang, no longer has much political influence.

Ma’s unprecedented low approval ratings result from his government’s incompetence and from his “Sinification” of government, with the legislature being only branch of government led by a Taiwanese. However, another key reason for his low approval ratings is the division within the KMT.

Under these circumstances, the DPP should be a shoo-in for government, but the DPP, too, is internally divided and cannot rule itself. Each of the key leaders appears to work only for themselves, and not for the party as a whole.

Take, for example, former premier and DPP chairman Frank Hsieh (謝長廷). He led the DPP to a disastrous loss in the 2008 presidential election. Despite promising to leave politics, he has continued to interfere and to place his people in key party positions. His incomprehensible China policies were decisively defeated by the DPP, but he continues to mouth meaningless slogans like “one China, two cities” and “two constitutions, different interpretations.” Does not Hsieh realize that “one China” is Beijing’s policy to swallow Taiwan and that Beijing does not care about its state and party constitutions?

Former DPP chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) did much better than Hsieh in her defeat in the 2012 presidential election, but she too had significant problems. Her presentations to US leaders were disastrous and her unwillingness to speak with people outside her own narrow and incompetent subordinates meant that she did not run a positive campaign. Her continued unwillingness to work with others worries even her close supporters today.

In their concern for themselves, the DPP’s heavyweights have also failed to prepare for the next generation. Youth have provided the DPP with significant electoral support, but where are the young future leaders of the party today? Should not such young leaders be gaining experience in such places as Taipei and New Taipei City as well as in the south?

Why do people like former vice president Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) and former premier Yu Shyi-kun (游錫堃), both aged over 65, think they are the best candidates that the DPP has?

Taiwan’s voters, like Australian voters, do not like political parties that cannot govern themselves. Will the KMT and/or the DPP heed this warning and make significant reforms?

Unfortunately, I am pessimistic since too many political leaders put their own interests before those of the nation.

Bruce Jacobs is emeritus professor of Asian languages and studies at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia.