Yesterday could mark the beginning of the most important two years in former premier Su Tseng-chang’s (蘇貞昌) more than three-decade political career after his convincing victory in the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairperson election.
Although the attorney-turned-politician has never discussed the subject in public, his ambition to run for the presidency in 2016 is an open secret.
Now that he has cleared the first hurdle toward that goal, the internal and external challenges ahead will be daunting.
Su has a lot of explaining and fence-mending ahead of him over his plan to reform the party and help it overcome its loss in the presidential election in January as well as the divisions between party factions.
The good news for Su was that his share of the vote surpassed 50 percent and at least affirmed his mandate as party leader, which was a concern before the vote.
How to ensure fairness and transparency in the upcoming election for members of the Central Standing Committee (CSC) and Central Executive Committee, and the so-called “seven-in-one” elections in 2014 will pose another challenge for Su, according to a CSC member, who preferred to remain anonymous.
More important, he would have to secure a result deemed as successful in the 2014 elections for him to get the nod from DPP members and supporters as the party’s best candidate in the presidential election.
Su’s interactions with former chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), who could also make a second run at the presidency in four years time, will also be closely scrutinized.
Externally, Su will have to find a way to fix the DPP’s relations with Washington, which went sour after a number of former and active US officials made comments that were deemed to favor President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) re-election campaign.
More influential would be the DPP’s often-criticized China policy, which inched closer to the middle during Tsai’s term, but was still considered unacceptable by most of the electorate during the presidential election.
Despite often being dubbed as a moderate in terms of his position toward Beijing, Su has yet to clearly lay out his China policy.
According to Liao Da-chi (廖達琪), a professor at National Sun Yat-sen University, Su’s victory will do very little to influence cross-strait ties unless the DPP is willing to make concessions on the so-called “1992 consensus” and internal feuds will be his biggest challenge.
Hsu Yung-ming (徐永明), a professor at Soochow University, also said that cross-strait issues would not be a priority for the DPP and Beijing until before the 2016 presidential election.
No one has questioned the former Pingtung County and Taipei County commissioner’s ability to govern, but as DPP chairperson, he will be unable to avoid sensitive issues and will be called on to deal with relations between different party groups.
These could prove to be the toughest challenges Su has faced in his long political career, but they are a mountain he must climb if he is ever to realize his ultimate goal of becoming president.