As a party that contributed greatly to the democratization of the nation, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is facing its most difficult period since it was formed 22 years ago and the party fully recognizes that it could become irrelevant if it suffers a heavy defeat in the city and county elections scheduled for the end of this year.
The party, which has been damaged by the allegations and court cases involving former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) — who left office last May after eight years as president and then was charged with embezzlement, taking bribes and money laundering, influence peddling and blackmail — failed badly in the legislative elections in January last year and the presidential election last March.
“It is a life and death battle. The DPP needs to do well in the city and county elections to remain one of the nation’s two main political parties,” DPP Department of Culture and Information director Cheng Wen-tsang (鄭文燦) said in a recent telephone interview.
Cheng added that, while the party had a bad time last year, it was not at all pessimistic about the city and county elections.
“We succeeded in gathering together large numbers of people for three rallies against the Chinese Nationalist Party [KMT] government — the Aug. 30 rally to protest against the government’s poor performance on President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) 100th day in office, the Oct. 25 rally to protest against the toxic products imported from China and to protect Taiwan’s sovereignty and the rally to lay siege to China’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait Chairman Chen Yunlin (陳雲林) when he met Ma on Nov. 6 — which showed that much of the public still supports the DPP and dislikes Ma’s China policies and his incompetence in handling the economy,” Cheng said. “Protecting our sovereignty and the economy will be the key issues for the party during the city and county elections.”
Various polls had also shown many KMT local government heads had 50 percent or higher disapproval ratings and it was a good chance for the DPP to win back those regions, he said.
The DPP holds power in six of the cities and counties that are holding elections this year — Yunlin County, Chiayi County, Tainan City and County, Kaohsiung County and Pingtung County.
DPP Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) has said the party should be able to win another six regions at least and was hoping to win eight.
However, the party has so far failed to come up with a single candidate for the Tainan County election, as two ofits legislators, Yeh Yi-ching (葉宜津) and Lee Chun-yee (李俊毅), have expressed a desired to run, while Chen Shui-bian’s former Presidential Office secretary-general Mark Chen (陳唐山) has also said he will enter the race, no matter whether the party nominates him or not.
“The party needs to be patient and we will continue to negotiate on the matter,” Tsai said, while many remain concerned the different candidates may split the party’s vote in the county and lose the DPP one of its strongholds.
But not content with consolidating support in the south, the party has said that Taipei County — the nation’s largest administrative region — would be key among the city and county elections and that the party will ensure it puts forward its best candidate.
The party believes it has a good chance of winning back the seat, as Taipei County Commissioner Chou Hsi-wei (周錫瑋) of the KMT has consistently had one of the worst approval ratings among local government heads.
There are calls within the party for former DPP chairman Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) to enter the race, but he has so far remained noncommittal.
Soochow University political science professor Lo Chih-cheng (羅致政) said the elections are so important to the DPP that he was expecting Tsai to run in Taipei County, saying that he believed Tsai would perform well.
“Even if she failed, she would succeed in cultivating a campaign team that could be used if she was interested in running for the 2012 presidential election,” Lo said.
He said the DPP should use the elections to field candidates with ideals and wisdom, and not just field faction members or local politicians as candidates.
Lai I-chung (賴怡忠), an executive member of the pro-localization Taiwan Thinktank and a former director of the DPP’s International Affairs Department, said the party should use the city and county elections to nurture the next generation of ‘national leaders’ who could represent the party in future national campaigns, but that so far he had seen no evidence that the party would attempt such a campaign.
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