The past two months have probably been the most tumultuous, crisis-ridden time of President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) term. Her Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lost massively in the Nov. 24 elections, and after she stepped down as the party’s chairperson, she still faced challenges from senior members of the pan-green camp, who have urged her not to seek re-election next year.
However, there is always a silver lining. Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) first major speech about Taiwan on Wednesday last week presented a lifeline that might save Tsai from hitting rock bottom.
A survey published on Wednesday by the Cross-Strait Policy Association showed that 61.1 percent of respondents were satisfied with Tsai’s unusually strong responses to Xi’s blatantly stated plan to use any means necessary to annex Taiwan under a “one country, two systems” model.
What is noteworthy is that pan-green and pan-blue supporters polled were both staunchly opposed to the “one country, two systems” model for unification. Sixty-three to 75 percent of those who identified as pan-blue-leaning — including supporters of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), the People First Party and others — rejected such a model.
The poll, which was conducted just days after Xi’s speech, also found that Tsai’s approval rating had climbed to 48.4 percent, significantly higher than a 20.9 percent approval rating in a survey published by online news outlet my-formosa.com on Nov. 30, about a week after the elections.
The results suggest that the public favors a firm and strong leader in the face of Chinese threats of unification, an image that Tsai also projected before the 2016 presidential election, after Chou Tzu-yu (周子瑜), a Taiwanese member of South Korean pop group Twice, was forced to issue a public apology for waving a Republic of China flag on a TV show.
Since the local elections, academics, political analysts and government officials have been trying to grasp what factors could have caused Tsai’s party to lose so many votes in less than three years.
While the Tsai administration’s drastic reforms and policy flip-flopping have certainly taken a toll on its popularity, its most expensive mistake was probably failing to act firmly on issues that loyal DPP supporters and younger voters care most about. That caused Tsai to lose support on multiple fronts, and eventually led to plummeting approval ratings and the DPP’s loss of seven cities and counties in the elections.
In light of her regained public support, Tsai should think long and hard about the areas in which she can no longer afford to remain on the defensive and where she should start doing what she was elected to do — lead.
Human beings are wired to resist change and would rather cling to things they are familiar with, even when doing so could be detrimental in the long run. That is why Tsai is bound to lose support if she wants to change the nation. It is the cost that every reformer must bear.
Tsai could instead boost her chances of winning re-election by demonstrating leadership and determination on the issues where she has been reluctant to take a stance out of fear of upsetting some of her supporters.
Doing so would allow her to compensate for the votes she could lose due to reform efforts and at least give her a fighting chance of winning another four years in the Presidential Office.
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