While the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) did not make advances north of the Jhuoshui River (濁水溪) — the general boundary demarcating Taiwan’s northern and southern regions — in yesterday’s mayoral races, the elections gave the party a big boost in morale, as it won the popular vote.
The DPP clinched two out of the five special municipalities, but collected over 400,000 more votes than the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT).
Yesterday’s elections were not a national poll, but they had national significance in projecting what might happen in 2012, political observers said. Many have seen the polls as a launching pad for the next presidential election as well as a vote of confidence on the policies and performance of President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration.
Despite the modest showing of her party, DPP Chairperson and mayoral candidate for Sinbei City Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) will not need to step down as party officials have construed the result as a draw, political commentators said, adding that now Tsai and the party’s Taipei mayoral candidate Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) are now closer to their aspirations for national office.
Before Tsai began to worry about her own future, her party was likely debating its future path. Analysts agreed that the party was unlikely to return to its old path of focusing on ideological and ethnic issues as its middle-of-the-road approach proved effective in yesterday’s elections even though it did not secure a big win.
Liu Shih-chung (劉世忠), a research fellow at Taiwan Brain Trust, said it would only be to the DPP’s advantage to continue its moderate approach if it wishes to make gains in subsequent elections. Variables to watch out for will include the performance of the KMT administration, the impact of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) after it comes into force in January and the economy itself, he said.
National Taiwan University (NTU) political science professor Wang Yeh-lih (王業立), agreed, saying if the DPP wishes to make advances in the next national election, it should stick to the moderate approach and steer clear of a strategy of belligerence. If the DPP returns to power in 2012, Wang said he does not think the party would repeal the ECFA, although it might seek to make changes.
Several factors contributed to the DPP’s defeats in Taipei City, Taipei County (as Sinbei City is currently known as) and the greater Taichung area, according to the political watchers.
First, DPP candidates were seen as having a chance of turning the tide against the KMT. However, the shooting of former vice president Lien Chan’s (連戰) son, Sean Lien (連勝文), on Friday coupled with the pleasant and sunny weather, motivated more pan-blue supporters, especially those in northern Taiwan, to come out and vote.
Howerver, analysts declined to interpret the result as a failure of the DPP’s new campaign strategy since the party received a larger share of popular votes than the KMT.
The DPP’s efforts to tone down ideological and sovereignty issues in a bid to woo moderates, women and young people are bound to transform the nation’s political culture, they said.
Third, they suggested that the DPP candidates were not locals in the electoral constituencies in which they ran and thus lacked close connections with grassroots supporters. Despite this, they pointed out that the DPP’s Greater Taichung mayoral candidate Su Jia-chyuan (蘇嘉全) did make impressive progress in catching up with his KMT opponent in a short period of time which, they said, could suggest that many were disappointed at the performance of the two-term Taichung Mayor Jason Hu (胡志強) of the KMT.
Political commentators also cited the economy as a factor. Unlike the economic hardship the US is experiencing, Taiwanese voters had little reason to vent their displeasure at the ballot box. As the economy has improved and unemployment has dropped, the Ma administration has taken full credit, they observed.
Institute for National Development executive director Leou Chia-feng (柳嘉峰), however, warned the seemingly impressive economic numbers were precarious as the dramatic improvement was made in relation to a considerable contraction last year. What’s more, the fruit of the economy has not been shared with the greater public he added.
Finally, DPP candidates did not seem eager to deliver concrete campaign platforms, according to some critics. Although Tsai had proposed some revolutionary policy proposals, her refusal to participate in a televised debate provided much fodder for her KMT opponent, Eric Chu (朱立倫), to question her commitment to the campaign.
Su also seemed reserved in questioning the performance of his KMT opponent or in proposing clear platforms on how to improve the city he wished to administer.
Some have complained that the elections were “cold” compared to previous ones that had highly-charged issues to stir up public feelings, but analysts said it was how local elections should be — addressing municipal issues rather than national and ideological ones.
Despite its defeat in the north and in Taichung, that the DPP’s share of popular votes exceeded that of the KMT sends a warning to Ma, who doubles as KMT chairman, critics said.
Yesterday’s polls were the KMT’s to lose, analysts said. However, it managed to stop a series of electoral defeats, which began with the Yunlin legislative by-election in September last year. KMT Secretary-General King Pu-tsung (金溥聰) will no doubt keep his job, but he and Ma will be busy with a renewed power struggle as the latter will soon need to find a running mate for his re-election bid if Vice President Vincent Siew (蕭萬長) delivers on his promise of serving only one term. It remained to be seen whether Chu, who is among the KMT’s up-and-coming stars, would take over following his victory for Sinbei City, they said.
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