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Pettiness is not presidential

Pettiness is not presidential

The primary for the presidential nomination of the governing Democratic Progressive Party took a dramatic turn Friday evening when three of the four candidates joined with the DPP's acting chairman in charging Premier Su Tseng-chang of using government resources for partisan interests and slammed President Chen Shui-bian for showing favoritism toward the premier's candidacy.
The surprise news conference hosted by DPP Acting Chairman Trong Chai at the DPP headquarters with Vice President Annette Lu, DPP Chairman Yu Shyi-kun and former Premier Frank Hsieh followed in the wake of announcements by Premier Su and Executive Yuan spokespersons of major policy decisions, including authorization to boost the basic wage, and a plan to preserve Tainan Railway Station and other cultural relics while shifting the Taiwan Railway line underground.
In the news conference, Yu maintained that the president had criticized "particular candidates" and mobilized support for Su, Lu declared that Su had engaged in "policy vote buying" through announcing construction projects to win support from DPP county and city mayors, and Hsieh said that Su's alleged misuse of administrative resources was "not simply a legal, but a political and moral issue."
There is no doubt that Premier Su sees and portrays the concrete achievements of his administration at present as the best advertisement for the DPP in the general presidential and legislative elections and by implication for his own candidacy.
Nevertheless, we agree with Premier Su that the charge by Lu that Premier Su and the Executive Yuan have been engaging in "policy vote buying" is a grave insult not only to Su's integrity but to the record of achievement of the entire DPP government, including the administrations of Su's predecessors.
With few exceptions, major programs or construction plans resolved upon by the Cabinet are not produced instantly like fast food but are the culmination of a lengthy process of drafting, evaluation and review.
The main point of discretion that the premier could have used more wisely concerns the timing of policy announcements, but it is surely politically inconceivable that the Cabinet should cease announcing policy decisions or new programs for a period of up to three months while the DPP holds its primary and chooses its president nominee.
Other candidates would have had reason to complain if the Cabinet had announced policies that benefited specific interest groups, but all of the policies in question are of general benefit and indeed should be seen as measures that can lift the reputation of the DPP government as a whole.
Moreover, the criticism against Su's campaigning in office is politically irresponsible and hypocritical.
Temper tantrum
The notion that a president, premier or prime minister should or can, like, say a legislator or party chairman, resign or take a leave of absence and leave the reins of government in the hands of a deputy while striving for the nomination of his or her party for higher office runs contrary to both political common sense and responsibility and the practice in virtually all democratic systems.
Acceptance of such a demand would truly open a political Pandora's box that would severely harm the DPP's electoral prospects.
After all, one of the most valid criticisms of the KMT is that Chen has appointed five premiers in his seven years in office. It would hardly improve the DPP's reputation for policy integrity and consistency if Chen had to appoint a sixth or even seventh premier before leaving office next May. Not the least important question is who would take political responsibility if actions taken by the surrogate premier caused damage to the DPP's hopes in the general presidential campaign.
The fact that the three other candidates seem to be blind to such concerns indicates that they are guilty of the same fault which they accuse Su of committing, namely personalizing the government.
Last but not least, is the issue of double standards, which can be settled by simply asking whether DPP Chairman Yu has truly relinquished all influence in the DPP headquarters during his vacation and whether Lu, Hsieh and Yu have or have not refrained from mobilizing DPP lawmakers, public officials or proxy members to boost their party membership vote totals.
The question is surely open as to whether the three candidates are simply lamenting that Su is doing the same things they are, only more effectively.
To put the matter mildly, such a petty level of criticism does not display presidential stature.
A more presidential criticism of the premier would have stressed that the programs of the DPP government are the common asset of the party and its future presidential nominee and that credit for related achievements cannot be appropriated by any single individual but belong to the DPP and the DPP-led government collectively and by urging party members to vote for the candidate with the best vision.
Unfortunately, the decision by the three candidates, together with Chai, to adopt a standard of criticism more comparable with a child's temper tantrum has brought glee to the DPP's foes but no credit to themselves or their party and has also severely damaged the morale of DPP supporters.
The DPP presidential candidates and other leaders should realize just how precious and how fragile our quiet democratic revolution truly is and that its defense is a cause far more weighty than the fate or feelings of any individual. In our view, barring a revival of self-discipline and reconciliation among the DPP candidates, the hopes for the DPP's salvation and for the continuation of Taiwan's democracy and progress lies in the wisdom of its members who will vote Sunday and citizens who will reply to public opinion surveys in the second half of the process.
We urge all DPP members to vote and cast their ballots autonomously for the candidate whom they believe can best both represent the values of the Taiwan democratic movement and has the best chance of winning next year's presidential election.
We also urge all DPP members and leaders to remind themselves that the true meaning of this election is the consolidation and deepening of Taiwan's democracy, progress and autonomy and, as the deeply moving and influential song of the United States civil rights movement appeals, "Keep Your Eyes on the Prize."


Updated : 2020-12-04 01:27 GMT+08:00