The Sunflower movement has left the legislature. Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) won a victory, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) lost a battle and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) suffered a shock. Not only was the party reduced to following the protesters, it was also reduced to supporting Wang in round two of his clash with Ma.
The DPP has been afraid to fail. It has been very cautious: Afraid of being accused by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) of directing the protests, it dared provide logistical support, but did not help lead. However the sight of black-shirted demonstrators awoke past instincts: The party immediately followed the students’ more radical stance and calls for withdrawing and renegotiating the cross-strait service trade agreement replaced its previous conditional support and calls for a clause-by-clause review. Not only that, but the party also raised the volume of its calls for an act regulating the oversight of the pact, even to the point of reviving its calls for state-to-state relations.
Regardless of whether the agreement is withdrawn and renegotiated or if state-to-state relations are written into the oversight act, the party will step on both the US’ and China’s toes. Unexpectedly, the impact of the protests has pushed the DPP all the way back to its original views on independence. In an instant, the transformation of the party’s cross-strait approach led by former DPP chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and former premier Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) crumbled.
If a social movement becomes radical, it is harmless. However, the DPP wants to lead the country again and cannot say the first thing that comes into its head. As expected, the spokesperson for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO), Fan Liqing (范麗青), criticized the party for wanting to write the view that there is “one country on each side of the Taiwan Strait” into law and said that “this kind of attempt to destroy the peaceful development of cross-strait relations is sure to fail.”
On the same day, US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel said that the US welcomed the Ma administration’s progress in cross-strait relations and hinted at a dislike for DPP excesses. Under pressure from the US, the DPP once again bent with the wind and told the US that it was “not entirely opposed to the service trade agreement.” This flip-flopping has further increased US concern over the party’s ability to stabilize cross-strait relations.
The party’s support for radical demands has highlighted tendencies toward political opportunism and a lack of policy stability, which reinforce the impression the movement was setting the agenda and the DPP is outdated.
It is astonishing the DPP, the biggest opposition party, once in power for eight years and possibly returning to government in two years, displays such a lack of pragmatic policies for dealing with cross-strait trade, creating globally oriented free-trade agreements and positioning in the cross-strait relationship. Instead it has aligned itself to a radical cross-strait cause, with possibly severe results.
It is not surprising that many in the KMT are happy: The impact of the Sunflower movement will at most cost the KMT two people Ma and Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺), but it will wreck the whole DPP and destroy the party’s transformation on the cross-strait issue that has been in progress for the past two years.
Ma misjudged the situation and lost everything, but he is not standing for reelection. This could pave the way for the early succession of the party’s next generation and that could be good for the KMT. However, the DPP has returned to its independence roots, while at the same time offending both the US and China. For the DPP, the last mile just turned into a marathon.
Julian Kuo is vice president of Formosa E-News.
Translated by Perry Svensson