With the registration of three substantial candidates, the direct election of the new chairperson of the governing Democratic Progressive Party by its over 350,000 members promises to be a genuinely competitive race.
This will be the first time that the DPP will have a real contest for its leadership since May 1998 when then DPP "senior adviser" Lin I-hsiung decisively defeated then DPP Legislator and acting chairman Chang Chun-hung in a bitterly contested campaign on a platform to revive the party's "founding values."
After Lin resigned in the wake of the DPP's victory in the March 2000 presidential election, then DPP Kaohsiung City Mayor Frank Hsieh Chang-ting won election as DPP chair in July 2000 in an uncontested race.
Two years later, President Chen Shui-bian, backed by a resolution by a party congress, took over the chairmanship post concurrently in order to bring the "government and party in tandem"and improve coordination in the new administration.
After Chen resigned the chairmanship last December to take responsibility for the failure of the pan-green DPP and Taiwan Solidarity Union to win a majority in the December 11, 2004 Legislative Yuan elections, then presidential secretary-general Su Tseng-chang took office after an uncontested election in January 2005, only to resign earlier this month to take responsibility for the DPP's severe setback in local elections December 3.
In the wake of the DPP's severest electoral defeat in seven years, the DPP membership will finally have a chance to make their first real choice of party leadership in seven years.
We sincerely hope that the contest can be focused on a re-examination of the party's record, positive and negative, its diagnosis of the current state of the DPP and Taiwan society, and concrete prescriptions for the party's future development.
We urge candidates and their supporters to refrain from unsubstantiated personal attacks or negative campaigning and focus on explaining their positive plans for the reform and revitalization of the party and the ways by which the DPP can rebuild its trust with the majority of the Taiwan people, including those who are not core "pan-green" supporters.
The three candidates reflect different streams in the course and development of the Taiwan democratic movement and the DPP.
At 70, Trong Chai is the oldest candidate and is noted for his public role in the overseas Taiwan independence movement and as an ardent advocate of a plebiscite to decide Taiwan's national status and, since his return to Taiwan, as a DPP lawmakers and one of the founders of the Formosa Television Company.
Chai, closely affiliated with the Welfare Country faction, has also been involved in controversy over his reluctance to comply with the DPP's demands for media reform by resigning either his positions as a Legislature and party central standing committee member and FTV chairman.
In his political statement, Chai stated that the DPP had failed to resolutely uphold the values of "Taiwan first" and political cleanliness" and vowed to promote these principles as chairman.
Yu Shyi-kun, who has began his political career as a grassroots activist in the Tangwai (non-KMT) opposition under martial law in Yilan in the 1970s, played a major role in creating the "Yilan Experience" during eight years as commissioner of the northeast Taiwan county and fostering a concrete demonstration for the effectiveness of the administrative principles of "culture, environment, tourism and information."
Yu applied these principles during his three-year term as premier and also built a solid administrative role as presidential chief of staff with a low but principled profile.
In his initial statements, Yu has coined the slogan of "selfless, realistic and committed" and stressed that the DPP must heed the lessons sent by the people in the December 3 poll, and accelerate reforms. Yu also emphasized that the DPP can regain the trust and respect of the people through actions that show that the DPP is a selfless party that can bear responsibilities.
Former Changhua County commissioner Weng Chin-chu, 59, is also an experienced DPP grassroots activist who devoted long years in educational and cultural issues in three terms as a DPP legislator and earned a reputation as a capable and creative administrator during her last four years in charge of the central Taiwan county.
Weng, who resigned from the New Tide faction to run in the race, has declared her intention to devote herself to party affairs exclusively, to stress the values of "democracy, freedom and dignity" and to make use of the intellectual and cultural resources in Taiwan society to revitalize and upgrade the party.
It is undeniable that the three candidates have the support of various "senior leaders" or factions in the DPP.
For example, media reports have speculated that Chai is representing the interests and views of Vice President Annette Lu, who is acting DPP chairwoman, that Yu is running at the behest of President Chen Shui-bian and that Weng made her sudden decision to enter the contest at the behest of former DPP chairman Lin I-hsiung.
Chai has already received the support of his Welfare Country faction, while Yu is expected to enjoy the backing of the Justice Alliance faction associated with Chen and the tacit backing of the New Tide faction, while Weng should gain a boost from Lin and some New Tide members.
Nevertheless, we anticipate that the capability of "senior leaders" and factions to sway the votes of the estimated 235,000 members eligible to cast ballots will be considerably less than pundits or media mouths predict.
The severe setback suffered by the DPP has sparked considerable concern and dissatisfaction at the grassroots and the fact that this campaign will be the most competitive in the party's history should enhance the degree of autonomy in judgment by party members.
We therefore urge the candidates and eligible voters and society at large to pay serious attention to the upcoming televised debates and examine the candidates based on the quality of their prescriptions for the DPP's ills and visions for its future than to the persuasion of factions or "senior leaders."
In the hands of DPP members lies the power to determine the future of their party and Taiwan society.
We urge them to use this power wisely.