After suffering a major defeat in the December 3 "three-in-one" polls, the DPP had been expected to engage in the election of a new chairperson to replace the resigning Su Tseng-chang and launch a renewed drive for internal reform and rejuvenation.
After the DPP only won six of the 23 city and county commissioner posts, far short of the declared goal of 10 slots including Taipei County, Su resigned his post to accept political responsibility.
To supervise the process of election and transition to a new leadership, the DPP Central Standing Committee had the responsibility to select an acting or interim chairperson last Wednesday.
Although the committee was expected to follow previous precedents to tab DPP Legislative Caucus Convenor Jau Yung-ching, Vice President Annette Lu was chosen in a decision that came as a "major surprise" to her and, doubtless, to many other observers.
But after only five days in office, Lu publically resigned Monday evening in an action that has only served to rub salt in the DPP's wounds by adding shameful embarrassment to the pain of electoral defeat.
Judging from a statement issued by her office, the vice president took the action to protest criticism from other party heavyweights and, especially, signs that President Chen Shui-bian himself felt Lu was exceeding her responsibilities by stating that she was acting as a "caretaker" for the DPP in place of Chen himself and taking other forceful actions.
Lu also lamented that party reform would be a long-term process and that there was no need for her to be sacrificed by "factional conflicts" within the DPP, which is well known if not notorious for its factional infighting.
These statements by Lu herself, combined with comments by close associates to the effect that Lu aimed to make sure that "reform was for real and not false," indicate that the vice president was laboring under some misunderstanding when she agreed to accept the commission from the DPP Central Standing Committee.
First and foremost, it is questionable whether Lu appreciated the gap in the mandate of an interim chairperson appointed by the committee compared to that of a directly elected new chairperson after a competitive process. It is clear from the DPP's bylaws that the responsibility of an interim chairperson is to ensure that the process of electing a new chairperson by the party membership takes place in a fair, open and smooth manner.
Given the DPP's roughhouse political culture and the fact that the coming election will undoubtedly be a competitive contest, such a responsibility is hardly trivial.
However, its main requirement is that the interim chairperson be a person who has sufficient status in the party, has an upright reputation and is not partisan to any candidates. Hence, it is the custom that an interim chairperson should not be a candidate for the permanent position.
In addition, the interim chairperson would be responsible for providing leadership, together with the Central Standing Committee, in dealing with any sudden or major incidents that must be handled or addressed before the inauguration of a new chairperson, who would have the mandate to adopt new directions.
To be fair, Lu may have been unfairly criticized for making statements that reflected existing party policy, especially concerning plans for party reform that were already underway.
For example, the DPP Central Executive Committee had already approved the formation of an anti-corruption "clean politics commission" well before the December 3 elections and the CSC had already approved its membership.
The party's highest policy making organ had also decided to deal with the damage done to the party's image by the release of the medical records of Kuomintang Taichung Mayor Jason Hu by a DPP legislator in the heat of the campaign.
Moreover, the formation of a new party affairs development commission to begin the process of party re-examination and reform in the wake of the election defeat was decided by the Central Standing Committee last Wednesday, not by Lu herself.
Where the problems arose was shown by statements by aides or close associates of the vice president, who have told the media that Lu was most concerned with whether DPP internal reform would be "playing for real or not" as well as questions regarding whether she would run for the party chairperson post. The latter issue should have been dealt with forthrightly by an unambiguous statement that Lu would not be a candidate precisely because she was serving as acting chairperson.
The former issue is more serious as the assumption of such a role certainly exceeds the mandate granted to any interim chairperson of any party in any similar situation, not simply the DPP.
It is not the responsibility of an acting chairperson to set the direction for DPP party reform or the future policy adjustments by the party in the wake of such a severe defeat.
Such decisions can only be made by a new leadership that enjoys the mandate of the full party membership.
We believe it is fortunate that several DPP leaders have declared their intent to run and that a genuinely competitive campaign and election will take place during which members should have the opportunity to hear and choose among varying prescriptions for the DPP's current woes and visions for the party's future.
Lu could have contributed a major service to the party in this time of crisis by using her political experience and wisdom to oversee this process.
It is unfortunate that the vice president chose to react to criticism with a childish decision to resign instead of proving the critics wrong by modestly completing her commissioned task.
Instead of beginning a process of re-examination, healing and reform, the DPP has been further shaken by the childish actions and statements by some of the party's most senior leaders. Neither the governing party, its members or the rest of Taiwan society benefit from such displays.
The future of the party of Taiwan's "quiet revolution" of democracy far outweighs the feeling of its senior leaders (by no means only Lu), who should be fostering a spirit of responsibility and unity in the face of adversity instead of acting like spoiled children.
We urge to the DPP Central Standing Committee to select a more modest but more responsible leader to oversee the beginning of the DPP's new beginning.