Most commentaries after the recent elections said Taiwanese voted for President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) cross-strait economic deregulation. Because the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) stuck to its Taiwan-centered ideology and avoided the so-called “1992 consensus,” it could not offer voters a positive alternative on the cross-strait economic issue. So the election results do not reflect a choice between two clear options, but rather a wish to stabilize the shift toward cross-strait deregulation that Ma has been pushing over the past four years.
Ma has successfully used this period to shift voters’ opinions. Is the DPP’s next step going to be to undo that shift, or to try to create an alternative between a Taiwan-centered ideology and cross-strait deregulation? This will influence the possibility of a change in government four years from now and it will also be an opportunity to open up new vistas for Taiwan.
The DPP should understand that any idea of returning to a Taiwan-centered ideology and restrictive cross-strait policy is not what most voters want. During the early stages of cross-strait deregulation, voters experienced real benefits.
If Ma has created a leaning toward cross-strait deregulation, the DPP, as a centrist political party, should find an alternative between the issues that leans toward a Taiwan-centered standpoint before the next elections.
Such a centrist position does not have to be a choice between loving or not loving Taiwan. As an opposition party faced with a KMT-controlled presidency and legislature, the DPP should consider how to use its Taiwan-centered ideology to monitor the government’s cross-strait policies.
Judging by the increased number of legislative seats the DPP won in the recent elections, its politicians should stand a good chance of starting out afresh at the local level and bringing their Taiwan-centered ideology toward the political center. If they truly build on local culture and local identity and combine that with a Taiwanese identity as cross-strait deregulation continues, they should be able to use that to gradually replace the DPP’s traditional opposition to the KMT or the standoff between the DPP and China. If they do, it is very likely that the DPP’s strategy that was so successful in the past — relying on local support to pressure the central government — would once again become effective.
The central government’s cross-strait deregulation is clearly a top-down approach to creating economic benefits. This means the DPP over the next four years, instead of focusing on the national level or monitoring through the legislature, should direct its efforts toward nurturing local talent, building local strength and gathering local knowledge to be able to bring local opinion into the cross-strait deregulation process and create a willingness at the local level to influence cross-strait deregulation.
This should not be mistaken for a “bottom-up” approach. Instead, it means building local politics and local concern through communities, local residents and the private sector and to help the public discover the true value of grassroots politics. By doing so, people at the grassroots level will not merely passively accept or protest against cross-strait deregulation.
The DPP is already beginning to focus on the local elections two years from now. This is the right thing to do, but if it could stop always thinking only about winning elections and treat local elections as a mid-term test of its road toward reform, it would be for the best for Taiwan and our democracy.
Chang Chun-hao is an assistant professor of political science at Tunghai University.
Translated by Perry Svensson
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