The first debate of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairperson election campaign ended without an expected war of words yesterday as candidates barely mentioned crucial issues, such as China policy and party reforms.
The 150-minute televised debate between five candidates, held in Greater Kaohsiung, was the first of three debates for the May 27 vote that will elect a leader for the DPP to a two-year term.
Yesterday’s debate saw the candidates devote a surprisingly limited portion of their allotted times to China policy and party reforms, seen by most political observers as crucial factors behind the party’s loss in the January presidential election, and decide not to attack each other.
Instead, they talked about whether the party should appeal for a presidential pardon for former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) in a question raised by candidate and former DPP chairperson Hsu Hsin-liang (許信良) in the question-and-answer session, sandwiched between the opening remarks and conclusions.
Chen is serving a 17-and-a-half-year sentence for corruption and has been experiencing health problems recently.
All candidates except former premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌), widely considered as the strongest contender, supported the appeal, with Su supporting Chen’s release for medical treatment and saying that the amnesty was for the president to decide — a position that matches that of the DPP.
Relations between the party and the US became the focal point when former DPP legislator Chai Trong-rong (蔡同榮), who was known for his lobbying work in the US in the 1970s and 1980s, posed the question to his rivals, saying the absence of an endorsement by the US had hurt the party in the presidential election earlier this year.
The DPP would have to reaffirm the US as Taiwan’s most important ally, former vice premier Wu Rong-i (吳榮義) said, while Hsu said trying to change or influence US policies is a “fatal mistake” and that it would eventually backfire against Taiwan.
Su and former Tainan County commissioner Su Huan-chih (蘇煥智) said the DPP should build its connection with second and third-generation -Taiwanese--Americans to improve its outreach.
All five candidates agreed the party should establish a representative office in Washington.
The leadership hopefuls briefly touched upon the China issue. While they unanimously supported broader exchanges between the DPP and Beijing, all but Hsu, who called for “bold economic integration,” warned against increasing economic dependence on China.
However, they did not discuss what measures the party should take to initiate and maintain interaction with Beijing.
The only highlight of the debate was Su Tseng-chang’s decision not to pose a question to the others during the question-and--answer segment, which appeared to be a tactic to reduce tensions with the other candidates.
He reiterated his initiative of the “DPP 3.0 movement” and said much work has to be done to tackle the party’s three predicaments — a “blue north and green south” phenomenon, its low seat totals at the local government level and its failure to win a majority in the Legislative Yuan.
Su Tseng-chang took shots at President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), saying the president has performed miserably in Taiwan and abroad with his refusal to listen to the public and his passive -attitude on issues such as the South China Sea and North Korea’s missile launch.