Although former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairman Hsu Hsin-liang (許信良) is the least likely candidate to win the party’s presidential nomination, he was the one who received the most attention when the three candidates recently presented their campaign platforms. Hsu’s participation in the primary will be a powerful catalyst to increase the pressure on the party’s other presidential hopefuls, Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) and Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), to listen to and incorporate the many competing ideas that are being debated within the party.
On the final day of registration for the party primary, Hsu borrowed the money to pay the NT$5 million (US$172,000) registration fee and instantly interjected a new variable to the competition between Su and Tsai. Hsu said he entered so he too could have the chance to express himself because he feels he has something important to add to the discussion.
Hsu’s political career has experienced many ups and downs and his participation in the nation’s political reform is legendary. He started out as a star in the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), but was later branded a traitor. He was an important leader of the dangwai — outside the party — movement and the Formosa magazine, after which he was forced out of Taiwan and blacklisted by the government.
In his first stint as chairman of the DPP in 1992 and 1993, he struck a deal with then-president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) that had a great impact on the constitutional amendments introducing direct presidential elections. He belongs to the DPP camp favoring deeper engagement with China and has advocated a “bravely go west” policy, setting off a debate within the party. In the end, his dream of becoming president caused him to leave the DPP, and now that dream has brought him back again.
Although Hsu is an incurable optimist who wants to grab his last opportunity to fulfill his dream of becoming president, he must know that his chances of winning the DPP’s nomination are slim, not to mention his odds of beating incumbent President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九). Hsu is the consummate opportunist always looking to stir things up. The NT$5 million registration fee bought him great political advertising — not only has he now told the world that Hsu Hsin-liang is still around, he has highlighted the vibrancy of the democratic atmosphere in the DPP which allows the party to tolerate differing opinions and showed that the DPP is not afraid of consolidating its leadership by letting an incumbent and two former party leaders run for the party’s presidential nomination.
Hsu’s candidacy not only pressures Su and Tsai, it also impacts on Ma. Compared with the vibrancy of the DPP primary, the KMT appears to be as lively as a bunch of stiffs. Although Ma’s popularity has dropped to just more than 30 percent — now consisting only of hardened pan-blue supporters — no one dares stand up and challenge him by disagreeing with his one-sided pro-China policies, his economic policies that are widening the wealth gap, his nuclear energy and industrial policies that harm the nation’s natural environment, the way he always apologizes for mistakes after the fact instead of managing things properly beforehand, or by saying that Ma lacks the necessary executive skills.
We have seen how Legislative Speaker Wang Jyn-ping (王金平) was accused of connections to organized crime when he challenged Ma’s candidacy for the party chairmanship and how he remains under pressure today. The KMT essentially remains the -Leninist-style revolutionary party from 80 years ago.
Hsu will almost certainly not be able to build enough momentum to win the nomination, but at least someone like him exists in the DPP and the party has the democratic maturity to tolerate his presence and voice. No such person exists in the KMT, nor does it have the democratic tolerance to allow someone like Hsu to enter the debate.
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