Three candidates to become chair of the Democratic Progressive Party sparred yesterday over the relationship between the party and the government and traded veiled barbs over the responsibility for the party's crisis.
Former Presidential Secretary-General Yu Shyi-kun (游錫堃) stated that the DPP should uphold its values by engaging in "mutual consultation" with the presidency and the Executive branch, but DPP Legislator and former Formosa Television Chairman Trong Chai (蔡同榮) and former DPP Changhua County Magistrate and Legislator Wong Chin-chu (翁金珠) called for the party to have autonomy from the government.
Yesterday's forum was the first of two debate sessions in the run up to the January 15 election of the new DPP chairperson.
The by-election became necessary in the wake of the resignation of former DPP Chairman Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌), who took responsibility for the governing party's setback in the "three-in-one" local elections December 3.
In opening remarks in her capacity as interim DPP chairwoman, Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮), urged all candidates to focus attention on problems such as how to work to "strengthen cooperative relations between the party center and grassroots branches," how to deal with the problems of factionalism and proxy membership and how to ensure that party elections are clean and fair.
Each of the three candidates delivered brief opening and closing statements and answered questions put by four senior journalists and academics in a two and a half hour forum held in the Civil Service Development Institute in Taipei.
Chai began the forum by highlighting his past advocation of the holding of a plebiscite for Taiwan independence while in exile in the United States and his role as a founding chairman of the Formosan Association for Public Affairs in the United States.
The DPP lawmaker also said that the DPP should take the lead and rebuild its reputation for clean politics by adopting measures such as requiring party leaders to place their assets in trust and explain clearly the sources of their assets.
Chai also vowed to bolster the effectiveness of the party's nomination system.
Re-examination and reform
In his opening remarks, Yu acknowledged that many grassroots party members were "heartbroken and disappointed" with the DPP's performance and stated the people used the election to remind the DPP that "it should correct its own shortcomings and recover its former sense of honor."
Yu said the election setback revealed that the DPP's objectives for governance were not clear, that it has lost the guiding power to set the agenda for reform issues, its cultivation of talent was inadequate and that its grassroots operations were deficient.
Yu said that the DPP could regain its momentum by engaging in four major reforms in tandem to build local organizations, intensify the party's appeal to recruit more young people, bolster the policy research capability of the DPP headquarters and by fostering a new relationship of "mutual consultation between party and government and collective decision-making" so that the party can use its values to lead governance and promote clean government.
Responding to a question on the party-government relationships, Chai stated that when President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) Chen was concurrently chairman, "the system of 'party and government in tandem' did not succeed, but now they want the party and government to mutually consult."
"If mutual consultation decides to oppose approaching KMT Chairman Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) or Legislative Yuan Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) to organize a Cabinet, can we demand the president to obey?" asked Chai, who said that otherwise "we will only be striking our own face."
Weng said that the next two years offered the best opportunity for President Chen and the administrative team to perform and advocated that the party and government should have a division of labor with the party taking the task of monitoring the government.
Weng added that following Yu's suggestion would extend the present disaster.
All for new constitution
All three candidates also expressed their support for the movement to hasten the birth of a new constitution for Taiwan.
Affirming President Chen Shui-bian's call for a referendum on a civic draft constitution next year was "playing for real," Chai stressed the importance of changing the official name from the Republic of China to Taiwan and redefining the country's boundaries to eliminate international confusion.
Weng affirmed that Taiwan is a sovereign and independent country and furthermore that "Taiwan independence is a goal of the DPP" and, therefore, enacting a constitution is in keeping with the DPP's fundamental spirit and ideals.
While affirming that she would take an active role as chairwoman to lead all the DPP to support the movement to "enact a new constitution that the Taiwan people will cherish and respect," Weng also stated that Chen's statement had come at a time of "administrative defeat" and "has become a slogan to distract the attention of the people."
Yu also said the president "is absolutely playing for real" and stressed that the Taiwan people had not participated in the enacting of the current constitution which was obsolete, not in line with Taiwan's needs and "absolutely has to be changed."
"I support changing the name of the country," stated Yu, who added that the goal of promoting a new constitution was to give power back to the people.
The sharpest personal criticism was made in Weng's concluding remarks, when the former Changhua County commissioner directly stated that the DPP's crisis originated in the central government administrative team and that the DPP needs to have entirely different leaders in order to resolve its current difficulties.
Referring to Chai, Weng said "one has a television station as his base of support and also has experience leading the offshore Taiwan independence movement" and, referring to Yu, said "another comrade has spent a long time as a member of the central governing team" and "is someone who is at the side of President Chen."
"We are not only electing a new party chair, but more importantly, we are deciding the future of the DPP and also protecting our common past," Weng stated.
Weng said the DPP was in a "phase of crisis" in which "not only the entire society has lost confidence in the DPP, but party members have also lost confidence."
"In this period of crisis, what we need are entirely different persons to represent the DPP in order to regain the trust of society and reinspire the enthusiasm of party members," Weng said.
Yu stressed that the DPP needed to confront a "very strong rival, namely the Chinese Nationalist Party," and warned that, despite the KMT's burdens of 'an unrighteous and unjust history" and corruption, "the KMT is changing" and "building a new image."
Yu said that the DPP's strength was based on its consistent advocation for Taiwan's autonomy, promotion of democratic reform and social justice and building social security for Taiwan's disadvantaged groups.
"If we win, Taiwan can have sustainable development; if we lose, then Taiwan will be handled over to a political party whose goal is 'to unify with China," warned Yu, referring to the March 2008 presidential elections.