30 October 2008

Taiwan Needs a Serious Opposition Party

(From RealClearWorld)

If physically assaulting a visiting dignitary is proof of a vibrant democracy, then please, bring back Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek!

This can't be all that Taiwan has to show for being Asia's freest society.

With another Chinese delegation scheduled to visit next Monday, topic No. 1 on everyone's mind is whether they will receive proper protection. A protest is scheduled. A demonstration is planned. And perhaps another assault is being mulled. All the more reason the Taiwanese need a new opposition to replace the ideologically bankrupt Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

The DPP had been a transformational force, the vanguard that helped usher in true democracy to Taiwan after years of authoritarian rule under Chiang and his Kuomintang Party (KMT). It won the island's first free and fair election in 2000, bringing about a peaceful transfer of power as Chen Shui-bian took office as president.

But in the intervening eight years, it all went south. Chen proved to be a corrupt political opportunist, doing everything he could to funnel funds to his and his family member's bank accounts. He rigged the election in 2004 to stay in power, and in the meantime, has done little other than stir the pot to raise the temperature in the Taiwan Strait.

The collateral damage to Chen's incorrigible behavior was his party. The DPP, under his stewardship, became a one-trick pony: Being anti-China at all cost. The party's only platform and raison d'etre was, and is, the promotion of fictional Taiwan "independence," and with it igniting ethnic tensions between the mainlanders and islanders.

But the Taiwan electorate, fickle but with growing maturity, resoundingly rejected the DPP in this year's elections. First, in the Legislative Yuan, the former majority party is now relegated to irrelevance as the KMT picked up an astounding three-fourth majority. Then, in the presidential election, KMT's Ma Ying-jeou won 60 percent of the votes to easily sweep into office.

Ma's campaign slogan was pretty much "It's still the economy, stupid!" With Taiwan's economy underperforming amidst a global boom, the Taiwanese wanted to get back in while the getting was still good. Unfortunately for Ma, his timing was awful.

And his political skills were equally inept. With a milquetoast personality, Ma seems ill-equipped to take command of his mandate and deal with opposition intransigence forcefully. He was right to open channels of communication with China, but so far he has not been able to effectively answer the criticism that he's "soft" on the communist dictatorship.

To be sure, Taiwan's frayed relationship with the mainland will require years of fence-mending; it can't be done overnight. Repairing that relationship will become more crucial to Taiwan's welfare in the face of sagging U.S. support. With the U.S. increasingly reliant on China to stabilize the current financial crisis, Taiwan will have little chance of receiving unflagging American backing should things get hot in the Strait.

Of course, the DPP, marginalized as it is, jumped on Ma's perceived weakness toward China as a tool for its own long march back to relevance. It orchestrated last week's unprovoked physical attack on Zhang Mingqing, vice chairman of mainland China’s semi-official Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS), while he was touring in Tainan. Afterward, the DPP - and the always-bombastic Chen - had the temerity to insinuate that Zhang "asked for it."

Instead of unleashing a torrent of condemnation, Ma's reaction was muted, further enhancing his image as someone incapable of standing up to anyone. While China remains undaunted and pledges to stick with Monday's visit as scheduled, the situation is so out of control it remains to be seen if anything can get done at this time.

For Taiwan's democracy to survive, and thrive, it is necessary for it to have a meaningful opposition party that's dedicated to protecting the best interests of its citizens. The DPP isn't it. The party's sole agenda, if carried out, ensures the island's physical annihilation - hardly something worth voting for.

The DPP needs to reform itself, moderating the anti-China, de-Sinicization nonsense into something more in tune with reality. Taiwan may - and should - continue to fight for international space and deal with China. And there are other issues dear and near to Taiwanese people: The economy, first and foremost.

If the DPP is incapable of generating new ideas and reforming itself, it should get out of the way in favor of a more meaningful and moderate opposition party. The fear is not a potential KMT hegemony - it can easily lose the next round of elections - but what a return to power by the DPP may bring for Taiwan.

If last week's event is any indication, don't expect China to turn the other cheek the next time around.

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