President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) recent claim that the pan-blue initiated a "soft coup" has not only triggered a political shockwave across party-lines, it also strategically landed the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) on the offensive, dominating discussion in the run-up to next month's legislative elections.
With the legislative elections just 19 days away, the "soft coup" topic has captured the media spotlight. The campaign strategy of the DPP is becoming apparent as it seeks to highlighting the lack of democratic credentials displayed by the pan-blue camp after losing the March 20 presidential election.
"Talk of the soft coup deepens the public's impression of the chaotic launched by the pan-blue camp after the presidential election," political commentator Yang Hsien-hung (楊憲宏) said.
Yang was referring to the series of protests staged by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and People First Party (PFP) in the wake of the March 20 presidential election, held mostly outside the Presidential Office, as well as attacks on police led by several pan-blue legislators and their supporters. Pan-blue protesters also used rocks, sticks and bricks as they tried to break into a local district court and the Central Election Commission office.
During a Nov. 14 campaign stop, Chen alleged that several high-ranking and retired military officers had attempted to persuade other military officials to either resign or take sick leave in an attempt to shake troop morale and further stir up post-presidential election social upheaval.
Fortunately, the "coup" failed thanks to the successful depoliticization of the nation's armed forces, according to Chen.
"By directing the public to remember images of the turmoil caused by the pan-blue camp after the election, the pan-green camp is appealing to voters to end such disorder by using their votes," Yang said.
Yang's observation was in line with remarks made by many DPP officials.
"The pan-green camp is making an appeal for voter support so we can achieve our goal of winning a majority in the new legislature and secure greater progress in reform," DPP Information and Culture Department Director Cheng Wen-tsan (鄭文燦) said.
In line with its campaign strategy, the DPP's first TV campaign spot, launched last week, attempted to convey the message the the pan-blue camp lacks a democratic spirit.
The TV ad, with its soccer game setting, delineated how "team blue" kept on contesting the referee's ruling that "team green" had won the game. The commercial is effective in conveying the message of the pan-blue camp's lack of sportsmanship.
Since last month, the DPP set out on four campaign tours, each led by DPP Secretary-General Chang Chun-hsiung (張俊雄), Premier Yu Shyi-kun, Presidential Office Secretary-General Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) and Kaohsiung Mayor Frank Hsieh (謝長廷). According to DPP officials, the tours had thus far not only achieved positive results in opinion polls, but also helped convey to the public the image of unity in the pan-green camp.
Debuting his own campaign tour two weeks ago while stumping for DPP legislative candidates, Chen had high expectations of himself, DPP officials said.
Campaigning under the slogan of "Ensuring peace and winning happiness," Chen is slated to attend at least 42 rallies nationwide in all 27 constituencies in the run-up to the legislative elections, according to DPP officials.
DPP Deputy Secretary-General Chung Chia-pin (鍾佳濱) explained the differences between the four campaign groups and the one led by Chen.
While the four campaign groups are mainly focussing on attacking weaknesses within the pan-blue camp, such as the KMT's stolen party assets and the alliance's opposition to the government's proposed NT$610.8 billion (US$18 billion) arms procurement budget. Chen's campaign tour, on the other hand aims to convey the pan-green camp's messages in a bid to win voter support.
"To meet the expectation of those who long for stability and progress, [Chen's campaign message] will communicate to the voters a happy, hopeful and positive vision for the future," Chung said.
For instance, when Chen's campaign trail took him to Tainan County, Chen pledged that once the pan-green camp gains a majority legislature, the first priority will be to pass the Disposition of Assets Improperly Obtained by Political Parties Law.
The money obtained by recovering assets stolen by the KMT during its 50-year rule will be used to pay for students' textbooks, Chen said.
Chen also said that the legislature will set up truth investigation committees to look into past injustices, such as the 228 Massacre in 1947, the Kaohsiung Incident and unresolved cases from the White Terror era.
When he made a campaign stop in Changhua and Taichung counties, Chen also pledged to pass the National Pension Law should the pan-greens win a majority in the legislature. The passage of the law will allow senior citizens aged 65 or older to receive a monthly pension of NT$7,500, Chen said.
Legislation governing the Resolution Trust Cooperation would be the new legislature's priority to help advance the nation's economic development, Chen added.
While the pace of election campaigning seemed to go according to the pan-green camp's script, one unexpected incident occurred when Examination Yuan president Yao Chia-wen (姚嘉文) and Examination Yuan member Lin Yu-ti (林玉体), said that while Sun Yat-sen (孫中山) was worthy of respect, they did not support his title as the nation's founding father.
Their rhetoric stemmed from the debate over the revision of the high school history textbook and caused uproar in the political arena.
Seeking to cool the controversy which had detracted from the DPP's main campaign message, Chen had quickly played down the controversy
Chen's subsequent accusation of a "soft coup" had calmed the negative impact brought by the debate over who's the nation's founding father and re-directed the party's campaign massage back to its designed theme of terminating the social disorder stirred by Lien and Soong.
By highlighting the pan-blue camp's image of instability, it is in part also the DPP's goal to break the myth championed by the pan-blue camp that "a pan-blue majority in the Legislature Yuan can efficiently check the ruling party," Chung said, adding that doing so could also boost the pan-green camp's electoral outlook as it may discourage pan-blue supporters from voting.
"The main message that the pan-green camp is aiming to promote among voters is to let them know that gaining a pan-green legislative majority would help move Taiwan away from the past four years of bitter conflict with the opposition parties and allow the government to secure greater progress and reform as it frees itself from quagmire and gridlock," said Cheng.
Chen spelled out the party's main theme in his address at the National Party Congress held in July.
"The past four years proves that, under the current constitutional government system, when the president is elected by the people and the majority of parliament belongs to opposing political parties, the entire government is nearly paralyzed and is unable to be effective," Chen said in his speech.