INTERVIEW: Su casts light on DPP’s perspective

As the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) prepares to hold its ‘Fury’ mass rally against the government tomorrow, many people in Taiwan and abroad are anxious to learn more about the alternatives the DPP can propose to the President Ma Ying-jeou administration’s policies. ‘Taipei Times’ staff reporters Chris Wang and J. Michael Cole discussed those issues with DPP Chairman Su Tseng-chang on Thursday

Sat, Jan 12, 2013 - Page 3

Taipei Times (TT): You previously mentioned you have changed over the years, especially after the loss in the 2008 presidential election. What has changed and how would you describe your leadership today?

Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌): I have always been a pragmatic person who upholds the values and faith I believe in. On that part I have not changed. However, I am dealing with tasks on a case-by-case basis. Generally speaking, I hope the DPP will become a dependable and trustworthy party for Taiwanese.

TT: A survey by Taiwan Thinktank last week showed rather high levels of dissatisfaction with the DPP. How would you explain this, and what is being done to address the situation?

Su: The interpretation of the poll results was kind of confusing because the DPP’s support rates were much higher than those of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). In general, Taiwanese are the same as people in other democracies — they usually do not give high grades to politicians.

Now, it is true that the disapproval rates for the DPP and the KMT both exceeded 50 percent. However, according to the DPP’s biannual tracking poll, the pan-green camp managed to beat the pan-blue camp in support rates only twice before — in the first half of 2002 and the second half of 2004. The DPP’s support rates have been higher than the KMT’s since October last year, the third time we have fared better than the KMT in the past 12 years.

TT: Do you agree with the public impression that the DPP is too “weak, soft and directionless” against President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration, and is not taking strong action against the ruling party? Conversely, are you worried that stronger actions would lead to the DPP being labeled an “irrational” and “violent” party again?

Su: As a founding member of the party, I have seen how the DPP worked its way up and became a responsible, rational and trustworthy party. People like to joke that while the KMT messed things up, the DPP took the blame. If people labeled the DPP weak and soft, it could be because they disliked President Ma so much they expected the DPP to recall him. However, recalling a president would have to go through procedures as regulated by the Constitution.

The DPP did make changes. Had we not made the effort, the KMT would not have agreed to fight media monopolization through legislation, postpone the planned increase of electricity prices from December last year to October this year, slash the year-end bonus of more than NT$20 billion (US$690 million) for retired civil servants and a quarter of government officials’ special funds.

The DPP has adopted a three-way strategy against the government: checks and balances in the legislature, policy recommendations — such as pension reform based on social solidarity and a sensible economic platform — and public pressure. Recent policy changes by the KMT are the result of public pressure engendered by Sunday’s protest. The DPP will adopt whichever of these methods benefits people’s livelihoods.

On media monopolization, we called an international press conference on Dec. 10 and contacted foreign friends and human rights groups, and we were able to generate enough pressure on the Ma administration to force it to adjust its position.

TT: In your view, which factors — national identity/sovereignty, or local issues like the environment, the economy, and justice — play a larger role in the outcome of major elections?

Su: It depends. Each and every factor matters in an election. In the US, the presidential elections were sometimes dominated by the economy and sometimes by foreign policy, such as Iraq. Ma performed so poorly over the past five years that issues such as social justice, environmental protection and domestic economy will have a greater impact on future elections.

National identity and sovereignty usually have a greater impact in presidential and legislative elections. There is a high degree of consensus among Taiwanese on identity and attitudes toward China. They see themselves as the master of their country and have the confidence to actively engage Beijing. It’s just a matter of how we engage with China, which can create a set of issues in future.

TT: You mention the high degree of consensus among Taiwanese. Do you think they have reached a certain degree of consensus on cross-strait relations?

Su: The consensus is strong and clear. Taiwanese identity is getting stronger and in fact it accelerated after Ma took office. The DPP’s position is clear: Taiwan is a sovereign and independent country and it will engage with China.

The difference between the DPP and the KMT is that the KMT deals only with communist China and the “economic China,” and regards China as a static country. By contrast, the DPP sees China as an ever-changing country and is determined to engage China in various areas, including religion, culture and civic society. We are ready for closer engagement with China on the precondition that we maintain our own identity rather than prepare for eventual unification. This is the biggest difference between the DPP and the KMT.

TT: As former premier Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) advocates his “constitutions with different interpretations” and Beijing applies more pressure on the Taiwan independence movement, how do you coordinate China policy within your party and deal with the pressure? Does the DPP still support Taiwan independence and want to talk about it?

Su: China maintains its assertion that Taiwan is part of China. The DPP’s position — that Taiwan is a sovereign and independent country — remains unchanged as well. It is unnecessary for a man to tell everyone all day that he is a man. In other words, the DPP does not need to change its position, but it will adopt flexible measures to deal with different situations.

Hsieh and others who advocate their own ideas should all be recognized for their dedication to this country. We view Hsieh’s China visit positively. However, the DPP’s official position [on China policy] was formulated in and approved by the party congress. The position could be adjusted if there were better ideas in the future with the approval of the party.

TT: By the DPP’s official position, do you mean the resolution on Taiwan’s future of 1999?

Su: The resolution can be summed up in one sentence: safeguarding the basic values of democracy and freedom. Someday China will become a democracy like Taiwan, but Taiwan will not abandon its democracy and become a second Hong Kong. We should cherish and safeguard our democracy. If there were to be any changes to the ‘status quo,’ it would require a national referendum, a democratic mechanism. Having spent the past decades fighting for democracy, the values espoused by the DPP will be the mainstream values in the future, not the other way around.

TT: Are you concerned that the DPP’s insistence on democracy, freedom and human rights, and its support of democracy in China, will inevitably lead to cool relations between the DPP and the Chinese Communist Party?

Su: Not at all. China is changing. Beijing now has to respond to the people and netizens. They are talking about the dreams of the Constitution and democracy, the same things we asked for decades ago. My concern is how democracy can be deepened and consolidated in Taiwan so that it doesn’t regress.

That’s why opposing media monopolization is one of the three demands of our protest on Sunday. Elections alone do not consolidate democracy. Democracy also requires freedom of the press. While the media was monitored and oppressed under martial law, the current media concentration is a creation of large corporations. The movement against media monopolization is not an anti-KMT movement. It’s supported by professors, students, professionals and the public, and that’s why the KMT caucus doesn’t dare block the proposal in the legislature.

TT: How do you look at the local elections in 2014 and the presidential election in 2016?

Su: Winning the elections in 2014 is my most important task as a chairman. That’s why I’m here and why I’ve visited local communities nationwide. We’re talking about more than 12,000 positions up for grabs across the country. We need to have all the preparatory works done this year.

In addition to finding quality candidates, we’re training more than 30,000 ballot examiners who will be deployed at more than 14,000 poll stations to monitor possible “dirty tricks” by the KMT.

As for the 2016 presidential election, we won’t win if we fail to win in 2014. Moreover, winning the presidential election will not be enough. We need a majority in the legislature so that the president won’t be a lame-duck president, which was the case between 2000 and 2008 because the DPP never had a majority in the legislature.

TT: How do you look at the DPP’s lack of grassroots connection in certain cities, counties and regions, more particularly KMT strongholds?

Su: The KMT was in power for more than 60 years in Taiwan and has huge party assets. The DPP has been fighting barehanded an opponent with a machine gun. Consequently, the only fair element in our elections is the actual voting. It’s not been a fair game in terms of resources and campaign processes.

Now, difficult constituencies can change over time. Greater Tainan is considered a DPP stronghold at present, but the DPP lost the commissioner elections in 1985 — Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) was the candidate — and again in 1989. It did not win Tainan County [as it was known at the time] until 1993. That same year I lost my re-election bid in Pingtung County, but that was the KMT’s last victory there.

Taoyuan, Hsinchu and Miaoli are all difficult constituencies for the DPP, and we need to look into the mirror and ask ourselves why we lost because the DPP has governed Taoyuan and Hsinchu. The last thing the DPP will do is blast the KMT all day and wait for it to fail. That’s why we have asked Ma to organize a national affairs conference and let the country work together to find solutions.

TT: What are your main goals for 2013?

Su: I have three goals this year: prepare to win the elections next year, reform of the DPP’s structure and organization and an overseas trip to promote the party.