Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) has been able to pose a serious threat to her Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) opponent not because of sophisticated campaign strategies, but because of her character, a senior campaign aide said.
“No campaign strategy would be able to change the fundamentals of a presidential election,” Lin Hsi-yao (林錫耀), a senior aide who is in charge of Tsai’s campaign affairs, told the Taipei Times in an interview.
The “fundamentals” could not be more simple for President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), Lin said, since they represent Ma’s performance during the past four years.
However, for the challenger, the campaign fundamentals include “how voters look at you and your party and whether they support your policies, ideas and vision,” Lin said.
Ma was bound to face a difficult a re-election bid because his approval rate has been hovering at about 50 percent, which, according to Lin, is a bad sign for any president who is seeking a second term, as was the case for former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) in 2004.
Tsai’s lack of long-term connections to the DPP have turned out to be one of her strengths because voters do not link her with the “stereotypical DPP,” Lin said, adding that Tsai’s academic image and public service career were both “refreshing” for voters.
While the DPP only garnered 42 percent of the total vote in the 2008 presidential election, the figure still shows that the party enjoyed solid support during a low point, he said.
“These factors pretty much shaped the fundamental situation for this election, which has been close from the first minute, no matter what those public opinion polls tell you,” Lin said.
Lin said he would have to keep some strategies — those targeting specific age brackets or catering to specific regions — secret during the interview.
According to Lin, the party’s detailed planning and strategies could at best sway 3 percent of voters.
He added that in most predictions the final margin of victory would be between 300,000 to 500,000 votes, or about less than 5 percent.
The Tsai campaign has laid out a pair of principles — never commit fatal mistakes and formulate the central theme of the campaign by listening to the people.
“The last thing you want is to win 1 percent of support and lose 3 or 5 percent for a stupid mistake, such as a careless comment,” he said.
While many analysts say cross-strait issues are the DPP’s Achilles’ heel and that the party would try to evade detailing its China policy and focus on solely domestic issues, Lin said that has not been the case for Tsai’s campaign.
According to Lin, for the DPP, cross-strait economic ties come after the sovereignty issue. He said the DPP has pledged not to terminate the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) if Tsai were elected, but it could not rule out the possibility of Beijing’s “punishment” by shutting the door on cross-strait exchange because of the DPP’s refusal to recognize the so-called “1992 consensus” and the “one China” principle.
“The fact is, even if we tell Beijing we would recognize the ‘1992 consensus,’ China would not believe us. It favors working with Ma anyway,” Lin said.
For the DPP, economics and sovereignty are inseparable issues and neither should be ignored in all cross-strait negotiations, he added.
The party took advantage of Tsai’s background as a Hakka and a woman in its campaign promotions, with the slogans “Hakka girl for president” and “Taiwan’s first female president” receiving -positive responses.
The “Battleground: central Taiwan” slogan is part of a strategically planned campaign that focuses on regional constituencies, Lin said, adding that every vote counts for the DPP, but it was trying to send a message to each voter that “his or her vote is the most important one.”
“Don’t be surprised if we come out with another slogan in the coming weeks,” he said.
Everything the campaign team has done so far reflects Tsai’s mild, no-nonsense and business-first character and “it really should be that way in every election,” he added.
At the end of the day, people choose the person to lead the country based on the candidates’ credibility, capability, values and visions, Lin said.
“The qualities of Tsai’s character turned out to be the biggest asset of the DPP’s presidential campaign this year: Campaign strategy became a secondary issue,” he said.
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