Sun, May 11, 2008 - Page 1 News List

DPP contenders debate on party direction, policy

By Shih Hsiu-chuan and Loa Iok-sin  /  STAFF REPORTERS

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairman Frank Hsieh, second right, and the DPP’s three chairmanship candidates — Koo Kwang-ming, left, Tsai Ing-wen, second left, and Chai Trong-rong — hold hands before a debate in Kaohsiung yesterday. The election is scheduled for May 18.

PHOTO: CNA

The three contenders for the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) top post sparred over the issues of the party’s future direction, cross-strait relations and regaining public trust in a televised debate yesterday.

While DPP Legislator Chai Trong-rong (蔡同榮),73, and former presidential senior adviser Koo Kwang-ming (辜寬敏), 82, emphasized the party’s roles in advocating Taiwanese independence, former vice premier Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), 52, highlighted the importance of expanding the party’s support base.

The 22-year-old party’s eight-year rule as a governing party is coming to an end on May 20, when it hands over the power to the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT).

The DPP came to power in 2000, marking the country’s first power transfer and ending more than 50 years of KMT rule. The DPP won another four years in office with its victory in the 2004 presidential election, winning a record-high 50.11 percent of the vote.

However, the party started experiencing setbacks in 2005. It suffered defeat in local government elections, the Taipei city mayoral and city councilor elections in 2006, the legislative election earlier this year — in which it secured only a handful of seats — and the bruising defeat in the presidential election this March.

The party’s image has also been tarnished by a series of scandals involving members of the first family and several government officials. Political observers say that the political gridlock, a lackluster economy and the cross-strait stalemate all contributed to tarnishing the party’s public image.

The debate, the only one before the chairmanship election next Sunday, was held in Kaohsiung City and was televised nationwide by Formosa TV.

Koo and Chai spoke mostly in Hoklo during the debate, while Tsai spoke in Mandarin most of the time.

Tsai said the DPP should have more interaction with the middle-class, women and young groups “to lure them to work with us.”

Tsai said that one reason some DPP officials got caught up in corruption allegations was that they fell victim to the rotten system of government that the DPP inherited from the KMT’s long-term rule.

The system will get worse after the KMT returns to power, she added.

Koo, the oldest candidate of the three, tried to turn his age from a liability into an asset.

“An old man like me has already come forward, can young people bear to abandon the DPP?” Koo asked.

Koo said he felt grief when the KMT won the legislative election in January and the presidential election in March, as it seemed to be a public repudiation of Taiwanese independence that he had advocated for so many decades.

Chai urged party members to vote for him as he is experienced and can mobilize support to protest against the KMT administration if president-elect Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and the legislature were to pass a cross-strait peace agreement as Ma had promised during his presidential campaign.

The peace agreement would rule out the option for Taiwanese to pursue independence and prohibit Taiwan from purchasing weapons for self-defense, Chai said.

“Ma had said that the peace agreement is subject to legislative approval only and does not need public support. If he were to make such a move, the DPP needs a chairman who can lead a mass demonstration,” Chai said

In a question-and-answer session, the three candidates elaborated on their ideas on the new challenges that the DPP was facing, including China’s rise, an absolute KMT majority and a China-friendly KMT government. They also discussed how the DPP could broaden its support to win in the next presidential election.

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