Surprise at the students charging onto the legislative floor on the night of March 18 without experiencing major resistance must be matched by wonder at the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) highly anticipated chairman election transforming from a three-way race into a likely coronation in just a single day.
With the exits of DPP Chairman Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) and former premier Frank Hsieh (謝長廷), victory is within arm’s reach for former chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文).
While the impact of the Sunflower movement, during which the DPP was almost completely ignored by young protesters, was believed to have prompted Su and Hsieh to drop out, Tsai’s strong lead might also have necessitated their withdrawal.
Either way, yesterday would be a defining day for the three senior politicians, all with presidential election experience behind them, and all three appeared to be facing a crossroads in their respective political careers.
For Tsai, the sophisticated academic-turned-politician would have to carry out dramatic party reforms to deal with a perennial problem — the party’s factionalism — as well as a recently emerging obstacle — the party’s increasing disconnect from civil society and the younger generation, who have accused the party of betraying its core values of fighting for the people.
Several DPP members have called for anyone who aspires to run in the presidential election in 2016 not to contend for the chairmanship.
However, if the party keeps falling out of people’s favor as it is now, securing its nomination for president would be meaningless.
How the DPP fares in the seven-in-one elections at the end of the year could be another potential obstacle for Tsai.
If her party fails to beat the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), she might have to resign as chairperson according to the DPP’s unspoken rule — even though the nominations were made during Su’s tenure.
“Taking a step back,” as Su described his decision to withdraw from the race, the seasoned politician will have some time to ponder his future, whether that means doing whatever is necessary to hang on to his hopes of winning the presidential nomination, or running in a mayoral or commissioner election in November to “stay in the loop,” despite Su’s confidantes saying that would not be an option.
Regardless of what Su’s plan is, it would be difficult to imagine that the political career of the ever-ambitious man ended yesterday.
The chairman election was supposed to be Hsieh’s last battle as a politician, which meant that dropping out was probably an even tougher choice for him.
After all, Hsieh has always been criticized by DPP supporters for breaking his promise to retire from politics following his defeat in the presidential election in 2008.
That is why Hsieh’s options might be limited.
If he decides to stay in politics, one of the better choices would likely be maintaining a collaborative partnership with Tsai and hopefully securing a position from which he could focus on advocating his friendlier China policy.