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Dec 22, 2008

Where we go from here

Do you remember the days when Taiwan's current VP was declaring Taiwan is an independent and sovereign country? Or when President Ma was saying that Taiwan was the same as the ROC? As long ago as that now seems, I do.

Those were the days just before the 2008 presidential election, when making such common sense statements was a necessary stretch for the KMT, meant to attract some more votes and dispel fears, all while more the party quietly held onto "one China (two interpretations)" and called for a One China market.

Now we are in different times, where Taiwan and China are "two regions" of the same country, and where Taiwan again takes the impossible position that the PRC does not exist, despite some rhetorical flair from our presidential office trying to spin things just a little more positively. The Third United Front, this time aimed at crushing formal Taiwanese Independence, is unfolding according to KMT-CCP plans.

What will ultimately happen? Who knows. Some things are certain: increased economic ties between Taiwan and China, as well as the precedents set by KMT-CCP dialogue that sidesteps the government, will increase Taiwan's economic dependence on China and may well alter the conditions under which election slogans and policies are developed. The DPP may be forced to alter its rhetorical approach while reinforcing its support of Taiwan's right to self-determination and holdin gout for the ultimate goal of establishing an internationally recognized country separate from the PRC.

Meanwhile, the KMT is unlikely to find a way to move beyond its current rhetorical emphasis on economics and pragmatism; how can they sell to the people any of the political concessions that the CCP will surely demand? If economics matters don't improve as the current leadership predicts, the KMT base and legislators will likely sour on the China-centric ideology and policy of the current administration. Internationally, we can expect Japanese and US support and interest in Taiwan to further decrease. The future does not exactly look bright, but this is not over.

It's the end game that matters. Unification is not just around the corner. The variables are too many. Despite the structural advantages the KMT enjoys at all election levels, and despite its media advantage (and pressure on public media), and despite the apparently politically motivated prosecution of DPP figures, the green camp is not crippled. Factionalism and debate is alive in well in both the KMT and the opposition. Green leaning papers and stations are financially healthy and functional, enjoying wide circulation and viewership. The public still has the right to initiate referenda and at the end of the day, Taiwan's future is still very much in the hands of the people, however the KMT tries to influence or control the likely direction Taiwan will go. And this power of referenda, however terribly flawed the current law is, is the most reassuring thing of all.

But aimless hope is not what we need. We need the DPP to develop an election plan that involves winning at all levels, not just the presidency. We need NGOs and the opposition to continue the fight against the rollback in human rights the KMT is initiating, and we need them to get some results, as difficult as that will be. We need a revised referendum law. We need targeted attacks on absurd KMT rhetoric and continued rejection of any "one China" framework. We need the green camp to develop a sales pitch that works and an alternative to KMT rule that is again attractive to the people.

DPP incompetence is potentially just as capable of damaging continued independence as a KMT sellout. We need measures to curb both of these dangers. Will we get them?

Of that, I am less hopeful.

10 comments:

Haitien said...

I know it's probably easier said than done, but I think the DPP needs to rely less on parachute candidates who are dispatched to contest various local elections, and actually work on cultivating grassroots support and local talent. I think there are some signs of this, for example Lin Chia-lung (who looks to be the DPP nominee for Taichung City mayor) actually putting down roots in Taichung a couple of years back, and moving his entire family there.

Having seen the past US election taking place in Colorado, I can say that the Democrats' huge gains in flipping what was a solidly GOP state relied heavily on both grassroots activism, as well as being able to point to the good work of local elected officials who happened to be Democrats. When it comes down to it, people will think hard about whom to vote for when they see people they know supporting a particular platform, and candidates who are locally born and bred, as opposed to carpetbaggers imported specifically for a particular race. Of course, this required a lot of time and money to drive the massive mobilization. The whole effort is already being called the "Colorado model".

Thomas said...

Totally agree with you. But having seen the DPP blow the last few elections, most of which should not have been such a big deal for them, I am growing more pessimistic. We are already over six months into Ma's presidency, and the DPP to me only seems distracted. And Ma's administration and the KMT have goofed up how many times by now?

I suppose six months is too soon to judge the DPP's response though.

David said...

It is not so easy for the DPP even if they have good management and leadership. The DPP will always be competitive in national level elections and will lead the way in campaigning and driving the agenda. However, at the local level the KMT has structural advantages which gives them a firm grip on local politics in Taiwan. This grip cannot be overcome with idealistic policies or better candidates. The DPP either has to play the KMT's dirty game or it has to bring about major changes in Taiwanese society. The first is not desirable, the second is very difficult to achieve.

STOP Ma said...

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Sadly, you're absolutely right David.
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Raj said...

David, even if you're right nothing will change by simply complaining that the "system" is unfair. There is much that the DPP can do. Until they've reformed themselves, come up with sensible policies (who said they had to be idealistic?), focused on bread-and-butter issues, tried to build from the grassroots up, etc they have only themselves to blame for losing.

Sometimes it's when things are most against you that you have to pull your socks up and work even harder. Like Thomas I think many people in the DPP buy the "it's a conspiracy" line so much that they prefer to just shout a lot (e.g. about Chen) which is easy, rather than try to do anything concrete because they think it's a waste of time and it's hard work.

Haitien said...

In all fairness, its hard to call the KMT-CCP united front anything other than a conspiracy, even though it was done in the full light of day. Nonetheless, I agree with Raj that the DPP can't keep focusing solely on that or other issues which can be easily dismissed as far removed from the layperson (eg., the whole dual citizenship thing), or alienating significant portions of the electorate simply by dismissing them as "blue tools" ("藍丁丁").

Actually, concerning the latter, the KMT is already dismissing anyone showing signs of discontent as being "green", regardless of whether they actually are. This could prove to be an opportunity for the DPP, if they show that they can come up with policies that address the concerns of these groups.

STOP Ma said...

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All I know is that the DPP have GOT to get better at selling their product.

The KMT propaganda machine is a formidable force.
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Raj said...

All I know is that the DPP have GOT to get better at selling their product.

Arguably they need a new product as well. "We're not the KMT" and "referenda for cross Strait agreements" hardly capture the imagination of the Taiwanese electorate.

David said...

Raj, I am not complaining about the system. I am just stating the reality of the situation.

The DPP has a lot of talented and hard working people. However, I agree that they need to find new ways of selling themselves to the electorate. Some creative thinking is needed. The DPP is currently going through a period of rebuilding and I am sure they will come out with some new ideas when the elections roll around. However, for many of the older generations the same old message is what motivates them. It is used for a good reason - it works!

Raj said...

However, for many of the older generations the same old message is what motivates them.

And the younger generations? If the DPP gets focused on getting out the "core", older vote it might as well not bother fighting elections.