The format of the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) election primary moved back to the heart of discussions after DPP Chairman Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) announced a reform stripping more than 60,000 members of their voting rights, yet most members have been unconvinced about a proposal for an open primary mechanism.
Perplexed by recent controversies surrounding member recruitment involving mass applications and reputed gangsters, Su announced a reform last week that bars members who have belonged for less than a year from voting in party elections.
The new mechanism should be able to avoid interference with intraparty politics by taking advantage of nominal member breeding, a perennial headache for the party, Su said.
However, some members have questioned the initiative, saying that the measure keeps new members from exercising their rights to determine party affairs, and prevents Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) or independent local politicians from joining the DPP because they would be ineligible to be listed on primary ballots.
DPP Legislator Chen Chi-mai (陳其邁) renewed his call for an overhaul of the primary format, which adopts the spirit of the US open primary system by asking voters to register before a party primary.
Chen and other DPP lawmakers planned to propose amending the Political Party Act (政黨法) and the DPP’s internal regulations to legalize government-organized party primaries.
The proposed format was used to determine the DPP’s presidential candidate in the presidential election in 1996, but has not been implemented since.
Former DPP chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) did not reveal her preference when asked about it yesterday, but said “it is imperative for Taiwan to develop a party primary mechanism based on its unique political environment,” as transplanting a foreign system would not necessarily be the best option.
“Reforming the primary system, which has been discussed repeatedly in the party without consensus, requires legislation and inter-party consensus,” Tsai said.
The KMT has never supported changing the primary format.
Former premier Yu Shyi-kun (游錫堃) supported the proposed initiative, saying that it would be “the best way to prevent the primary being kidnapped or dominated by party factions.”
Some have also suggested that the DPP charts its own course by unilaterally adopting the open primary format, without seeking collaboration from the KMT.
While the open primary format would further enforce democratic values, which is good for Taiwanese politics in the long term, “there is no guarantee that the KMT will not try to mobilize people and interfere with the DPP primary,” DPP Legislator Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴) and New Taipei City (新北市) office director Lo Chih-cheng (羅致政) said.
Hsiao and Lo, who deal with voters, party members and local communities on a daily basis, said an open primary would sacrifice party members’ rights, a move which is not likely to benefit the party in the long run.
Hsu Yung-ming (徐永明), an assistant professor at Soochow University, said the DPP could keep its “one-year rule” on voting rights intact, but should allow new members to be listed as candidates in party primaries so that the DPP’s local development would not be jeopardized by the rule.
The proposal has not been formally discussed within the party, DPP spokesperson Lin Chun-hsien (林俊憲) said, adding that the party’s nomination process would be determined by the Central Executive Committee and party congress, which is scheduled to be held at the end of this month.