DPP may be squan­der­ing its po­lit­i­cal cap­i­tal on in­fight­ing

The China Post - - COMMENTARY -

As Rahm Emanuel, U.S. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s for­mer chief of staff fa­mously said: “You never let a se­ri­ous cri­sis go to waste ... it’s an op­por­tu­nity to do things you think you could not do be­fore.” The Kuom­intang (KMT) has a se­ri­ous cri­sis at hand and it is show­ing signs of mak­ing use of the op­por­tu­nity it pro­vides.

The rul­ing party is fac­ing its most se­ri­ous cri­sis in re­cent decades. Its de­feat in the 2000 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion to the Demo­cratic Pro­gres­sive Party’s (DPP) Chen Shuib­ian was a wa­ter­shed mo­ment, but Chen’s vic­tory was due mainly to di­vi­sion in the KMT camp. The DPP has never been able to take the ma­jor­ity in the Leg­isla­tive Yuan, in­clud­ing dur­ing the eight years of Chen’s pres­i­dency. Pres­i­dent Ma Ying-jeou’s chron­i­cally low ap­proval rat­ings and the KMT’s dis­mal show­ing in the 2014 lo­cal gov­ern­ment elec­tions, mean­while, seem to have pointed to a tran­si­tional change in Tai­wanese pol­i­tics.

Change is al­ready in the air. In an ex­tra­or­di­nary turn of events, the rul­ing party is run­ning like a chal­lenger for the 2016 pres­i­den­tial race while the DPP is giv­ing off an air of in­vin­ci­bil­ity. The KMT is ral­ly­ing be­hind the wild­card Hung Hsiu-chu as its pre­sump­tive can­di­date af­ter the “party heavy­weights” held out in the pri­mary. The party is tak­ing a page out of Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je’s cam­paign book, let­ting Hung — known as “Lit­tle Hot Pep­per” for her fiery style — loose with her straight-shoot­ing com­ments. At one point, KMT law­mak­ers even praised Hung for her self-con­fessed “tone-deaf­ness” ( ) months af­ter the party crit­i­cized Ko for his sim­i­larly “tone-deaf” out­spo­ken­ness. Some in the party are rec­og­niz­ing that Hung’s cur­rent pop­u­lar­ity might not be merely the re­sult of public cu­rios­ity, but rather that Hung’s un­ortho­dox cam­paign style might be more at­trac­tive to an of­ten anti-es­tab­lish­ment public than the tra­di­tional KMT strat­egy.

The DPP can­di­date Tsai Ing-wen, on the other hand, seems to be run­ning a re-elec­tion cam­paign. In her re­cent com­ments, her trip to the U.S. and her high-pro­file in­ter­view with Time Mag­a­zine, she fo­cused mainly on out­lin­ing her plans as the fu­ture pres­i­dent. She went as far as ask­ing the Time jour­nal­ist to “tell them you were served by the next pres­i­dent of Tai­wan” af­ter serv­ing break­fast at her home.

Tsai’s pro­jec­tion of con­fi­dence is no doubt a cal­cu­lated de­ci­sion. An air of in­vin­ci­bil­ity can be use­ful for a can­di­date to main­tain mo­men­tum. By ad­dress­ing pol­icy is­sues in­stead of en­gag­ing in smear cam­paign­ing, Tsai also uses her cur­rent strength in terms of public sup­port to force her op­po­nent to make the ugly moves.

Play­ing the ti­tle de­fender, how­ever, has its risks. Tsai is al­ready fac­ing in­fight­ing with a pan-green camp fo­cused on di­vid­ing pre­sump­tive spoils. She was slammed by for­mer DPP leader Lin Yi-hsi­ung, a god­like fig­ure in the party, for fail­ing to with­draw DPP can­di­dates and make space for in­de­pen­dent can­di­dates in sev­eral dis­tricts in the 2016 law­maker elec­tion. At the same time, she was also crit­i­cized by Taipei City Coun­cilor Kao Chia-yu, one of DPP’s most pop­u­lar young politi­cians, pre­cisely for fail­ing to put DPP law­maker can­di­dates in some dis­tricts in what Kao sug­gested was a “se­cret pact” with James Soong’s Peo­ple First Party.

It has yet to be seen whether Hung’s pop­u­lar­ity can face the test of time, and even if it does the DPP will still en­joy an ad­van­tage in the 2016 elec­tion. The KMT, how­ever, should not re­gard Hung’s rise merely in terms of the elec­tion. The 2016 elec­tion cam­paign is for the KMT a chance to re­form, some­thing ev­ery KMT leader has paid lip ser­vice to. An en­er­giz­ing and un­ortho­dox can­di­date like Hung can help the party move for­ward from its cen­ten­nial stiff­ness and re­gain a fight­ing spirit.

The DPP, mean­while, should not be blinded by its cur­rent ad­van­tage. Public sup­port of­ten goes as soon as it comes. The op­po­si­tion party will have re­grets if it fails to make good use of it and squan­ders its po­lit­i­cal cap­i­tal on in­fight­ing and ar­gu­ments over spoils. Af­ter all, those are two of the things that earned the KMT its public dis­con­tent.

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