Former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairperson Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) call for President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) to convene a national affairs conference may have backfired, with ramifications that remain to be seen.
Listing seven controversial issues as topics for discussion, Tsai unveiled her initiative at a press conference on Saturday and said a conference was needed amid the backdrop of a national crisis due to what she said was the Ma administration’s poor governance.
The seven issues comprised military reform, the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant, a check-and-balance mechanism on cross-strait agreements, pension reform, the amendment of the Referendum Act (公投法), the 12-year education program and the development of a new model for Taiwan’s economy.
While it was not the first time Tsai has made such a proposal — she first did so last year, with the endorsement of DPP headquarters — the presence of 13 DPP lawmakers at the event and the abruptness of announcement has annoyed DPP headquarters and DPP Chairman Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌).
Many say the move has intensified the rivalry between Tsai and Su, both believed to be seeking the DPP’s presidential nomination in 2016, and DPP headquarters did not endorse the initiative this time. Meanwhile, former premier Frank Hsieh (謝長廷), a longtime rival of Su’s, was the first DPP heavyweight to voice support for Tsai.
DPP headquarters and Tsai’s office both played down tensions.
DPP Secretary-General Lin Hsi-yao (林錫耀) reiterated that demanding a national affairs conference “had been a party consensus since last year.”
However, Su, who begins a four-day visit to Thailand on Thursday, has not personally addressed the issue since last week.
The Ma administration has used the initiative to its advantage, with a presidential spokesperson saying that meetings between political leaders were sufficient to resolve differences and that Ma was willing to meet with Tsai, Su and Hsieh separately.
Tsai’s announcement has triggered a war of rhetoric within the DPP. Legislator Chiu Yi-ying (邱議瑩) disparaged the idea while fellow legislator Kuan Bi-ling (管碧玲) supported the proposal for its firm opposition to the nuclear power plant.
Tuan Yi-kang (段宜康), a lawmaker of the DPP’s New Tide faction, offered the harshest criticism, saying that the initiative has transformed the government’s plight into a DPP internal conflict.
Tsai thought it was time to repeat the demand after the government replaced two defense ministers in a week and with the public divided on many issues, said a senior Tsai aide, who wished to remain anonymous.
The last thing on the Tsai’s mind was keeping the credit to herself and she does not mind handing Su the leading role in the initiative, as long as he supports it, the aide said, adding that “how Su handles the issue will determine the future development of the DPP’s current political atmosphere.”