DPP needs to spend more time in the ‘wilderness of reflection’

The China Post news staff

The smart money is probably still on President Ma Ying-jeou winning re-election in the Jan. 14 election. Incumbents have a powerful advantage and those who are truly undecided often break at the last moment for the candidate they are more familiar with. It is, however, somewhat surprising that the race has become this close. Recent polls indicate the president’s lead is either slim or within the margin of error — two polls from last week actually put Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen and her running mate DPP Secretary-General Su Jia-chyuan slightly ahead of the Kuomintang (KMT) ticket of President Ma and his running mate Premier Wu Den-yih. U.S. President Barack Obama would likely be thrilled to be able to claim some of Taiwan’s statistics going into his re-election battle. Unemployment in Taiwan is under 4.5 percent, and late October report by Bloomberg News claimed Taiwan’s industrial production likely gained over 6 percent in September compared to the same time last year and overall; Taiwan’s economy is growing. Last Tuesday the Taiwan Institute of Economic Research (TIER) lowered its forecast for the nation’s projected 2011 GDP growth rate; but a rate of 4.64 percent is still a lot better than that of many other economies. Some analysts are blaming People First Party (PFP) Chairman James Soong for throwing his hat into the ring and diluting Ma’s support rate. Soong is generally polling at around 10 percent, and although he may be taking votes from both sides it’s reasonable to assume that more pan-blue voters will be inclined to support Soong than those on the pan-green side. With statistics like the ones quoted above, however, one would think even a “spoiler” such as James Soong would not be able to dent a re-election bid of what has been — on paper at least — a successful presidency. But there are other factors in play. For one, the DPP standard bearer is a new kind of opposition politician. Tsai was not an active part of Taiwan’s early democracy movement and does not seem to bear the same personal grievances against the KMT that former party leaders such as Chen Shui-bian or Annette Lu seemed to carry. Another element is passion; supporters of the DPP seem to have it this year while the KMT side appears to be less inspired. Ma’s greatest strengths have been finding ways to cooperate with China and running a clean administration, but Tsai has been reasonably successful in focusing the campaign on local issues such as the divide between Taiwan’s urban and rural areas and stagnating salaries.

Some voters may be attracted to Tsai for very understandable reasons: she is intelligent, well spoken, well educated; a strong woman and a strong candidate. But even if one concedes the possibility that Tsai Ing-wen herself could be a decent president, the party that she represents has not convincingly purged itself of its tendencies to put ideology above good governance. Of course, there is also the too-fresh history of the last DPP administration’s corruption scandals. Former President Chen is now serving a long term behind bars and others from his administration have also been implicated. One would think these facts alone would be enough to deter voters from offering the opposition the keys to power again so soon, but memories it seems are short. The DPP has made tremendous positive contributions to Taiwan’s political development and has the potential to be a force for good again, but the party may not have yet spent long enough in the “wilderness of reflection” to be ready for a return to power next year. “Once bitten twice shy,” says the well-known idiom. Other famous sayings include, “don’t change horses in the middle of the stream” and “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” These phrases have become cliches, but that doesn’t mean they lack truth.