DPP must return to grassroots

The Democratic Progressive Party suffered an unexpected landslide defeat in the March 22 presidential election as the Kuomintang "won back Taiwan" thanks to the victory of KMT former chairman and ex-Taipei City mayor Ma Ying-jeou.
The defeat shattered the myth that the DPP was "very capable in winning elections" and showed that, while the DPP retains skill in electoral campaign and setting the agenda, its strategic focus was seriously misplaced.
For example, during his second term, President Chen Shui-bian and DPP leaders such as former chairman Yu Shyi-kun focussed on mobilizing voter enthusiasm by appealing to issues of "national identity" and highlighting the campaign to use the name of "Taiwan" to enter the World Health Organization and the United Nations instead of improving the lives of the majority of Taiwan's people.
The excessive publicity devoted to these issues, albeit worthy in their own right, gave the inaccurate impression that the government was not concerned with fundamental issues of the economy and people's livelihood and hid from public view the considerable list of achievements made by the DPP administration in upgrading infrastructure and building a social security net.
Moreover, the evident resurgence of a sectarian "ethnic essentialism" reflected in the drive by then DPP chairman Yu Shyi-kun early in 2007 for a "Resolution on National Normalization" and the use of mechanisms to "filter" out possible "pan-blue" views from the DPP nomination process exacerbated ethnic tensions as well as violating the DPP's core values of citizenship, ethnic pluralism and an inclusive Taiwan identity.
Hence, the effort to mobilize public opinion behind the "U.N. for Taiwan" referendum, which gave the 23 million Taiwan people the first chance in their history to express their collective view on their national identity, finally only served to isolate the DPP government in the face of foreign appeasement of Beijing and left the referendum fatally vulnerable to an undemocratic boycott by the KMT.
The inability of Chen's administration to articulate a value-based economic strategy for Taiwan's future and explain the reasons for the need for a cautious approach to the China market also masked the fact that Taiwan's economic problems, such as stagnant wages amid steady overall growth, did not arise with the DPP but were inherited from the collapse of the KMT's 1990s "bubble economy" and globalization.
Since the DPP never effectively engaged in public re-examination, the vacuum was filled by the KMT and the pro-KMT mainstream media, which convinced most citizens of the falsehoods that the economy had been "wrecked" by the DPP and that only restoring the unreformed and unrepentant authoritarian party to power and betting the future of our economy in the Chinese market would restore prosperity.
Ironically, this long-standing strategic shortcoming was all too belatedly addressed by the "well-being economy"' program promoted in the campaign of defeated DPP presidential candidate Frank Hsieh Chang-ting, which highlighted a vision of turning Taiwan into a society with the "highest quality of living" through the promotion of sustainable economic development with social equity and environmental protection and advocated a balance between national security and economic interests in links with the PRC.
The road back
The March 22 results do not imply a blanket endorsement of the KMT, but signifies a "vote of no confidence" in the DPP government's inadequate but also underappreciated performance.
The DPP must now revamp its politica strategy and leadership for its future role in opposition based on a honest reappraisal of its own performance, including achievements and shortcomings and avoid falling prey to paralyzing internal recriminations.
The new DPP leadership must also carry out a full reassessment of the problems faced by Taiwan's politics, society, economy and external relations at a time of globalization and the rise of a "neo-authoritarian" camp led by the PRC and now joined by KMT-ruled Taiwan.
The road back for the party of Taiwan's grassroots democratic movement will begin back in the grassroots by reaffirming its core values for democracy and social justice.
DPP legislators should diligently monitor the actions of the new KMT government and return to genuinely standing together with the people and fight together with progressive labor, environmental, feminist and other social and civic movements to defend political democracy, press for social equality and justice and protect our society and environment from a revival of "growth above all" economic strategy.
The DPP also needs to regain its past vibrancy and creativity by bringing in a new generation of leadership free of the burdens and resentments of the "Formosa" generation, lifting the reactionary ban on policy or issue based subgroups and incorporate the dynamism of the "Reverse the Tide" youth campaign.
The test of whether the DPP has learned its lessons will come with the city and county mayoral elections in late 2009. Only if the DPP can win back the hope of the Taiwan people in these grassroots polls will there be hope for the early resumption of democratic and progressive and Taiwan-centric governance in 2012.