Five candidates are vying for the chairmanship of the main opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). The battlefield looks very crowded, but the race is now apparently focused on thwarting Su Tseng-chang's attempt to take the party's helm, which he wants to do to enhance his chances of winning the party's nomination for the 2016 presidential election.
DPP pro-independence diehards and the faction led by Hsu Hsin-liang, who favors active engagement with China, have been fighting each other nearly every step of the way. The two groups, however, seem to have found a shared goal in blocking Su's party chairmanship bid.
Opposition to Su partly stems from ideological and policy differences, but is also related to a long-term factional power struggle inside the party.
As pro-independence activists have not yet found a promising agent in the DPP ranks, their opposition is not expected to pose any real threat to Su's victory in the upcoming election. This is why Su has begun seeking reconciliation with pro-independence diehards, as resolving factional strife is a far taller order.
Su's recent visit to former President Chen Shui-bian in prison was seen as an initial step toward reconciliation with the pro-independence forces. As granting Chen a special pardon is one of their major calls, Su might be forced to agree to such a proposal in exchange for support in the chairmanship election.
What concerns us more is whether or not Su will also be forced to accept the faction's other policy goals, such as establishing an independent Taiwan republic or dealing with cross-Taiwan Strait relations under a "one side, one country" formula.
It will be very regrettable if the DPP's first chairmanship election following its defeat in the Jan. 14 presidential election is again be overshadowed by anti-China rhetoric.
From this angle, we believe Hsu's participation in the chairmanship election is strategically significant, even though he stands little chance of winning. Hsu's candidacy will help focus internal party debate on the urgent issues facing Taiwan such as industry restructuring and the country's brain drain. A closed-door cross-Taiwan Strait policy should not be an option for addressing those issues.
The DPP elite should have learned the lesson from their party's recent presidential election defeat that it will be difficult for the party to win the trust of the United States, China -- and even Taiwan's swing and independent voters -- if it fails to come up with pragmatic and reasonable cross-strait policies and strategies.
The next DPP chairman will play a critical role in the party's future development. He will not only have to lead the party in the seven-in-one local elections set to take place in 2014 but will also need to set the tone for the party's adjustment of its China policy.
People familiar with politics understand that those who intend to vie for the presidency should not get involved in longstanding internal policy rifts in the early stages. Su, while never having given up his aspiration to run for president, does not seem to care about such a taboo.
Like Tsai Ing-wen, his arch-rival for the 2016 DPP presidential candidacy, Su remains vague on his vision for cross-strait relations. Although he said after registering for the party chairman election that Taiwan and China should replace confrontation with dialogue and pursue co-existence and co-prosperity, he has failed to present any concrete strategies.
This is a crisis for both Su himself and for the DPP. If he compromises with pro-independence diehards in order to win the party chairmanship, he will find it difficult to win the trust of middle-of-the-road voters in the next presidential poll, while the DPP will lose a good opportunity to adjust its China policy in the coming two years.
Playing a balancing act of appealing to both pro-independence diehards and moderate voters and presenting a workable cross-strait policy will be Su's challenge and the focus of the party chair poll. (Editorial abstract -- April 16, 2012).
(By Sofia Wu)