Recently, I have been much more focused on American Politic as the US election is coming up and things are getting hyped in the Democratic Primary. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been paying attention to development in Taiwan however, which brings me to the rant I want to make right here, specifically regarding Taiwan’s Third Force progressives.
Most of us already know what happened in the local election last year. We also know about the DPP Primary. Han Kuo-yu won the Kaohsiung Mayoralty, and the DPP suffered major losses in the local elections. The “Han Wave”, which contributed to the DPP’s defeat, is now also creating significant pressure on Han to run for the presidency. These events have two important effects:
- Deep-greens are now taking this chance to primary President Tsai via William Lai. This primary challenge proceeds to lead to:
- Panicking among the general pan-greens. The panic consumes not only the majority of the establishment DPPers, which have lined up firmly behind Tsai, but also most of the Third Force progressives, who are also voicing support for Tsai.
The support for Tsai among the Third Force is not surprising, as Lai, despite being supposedly more deep-green, is more conservative on both social and economic matters. The deep fear among Third Force progressives, however, is that the split between Tsai and Lai will ultimately allow Han to sneak in, and Han’s recent antics have been especially alarming to everyone on the boarder pro-Taiwan spectrum. The most poignant example of this anxiety by a Third Force progressive is the recent endorsement of Tsai by sunflower leader Lin Fei-fan, stating: “If neither Tsai or Lai volunteer to step aside and let the other run, both of them will be the sinner of Taiwanese history.”
Concerns about Han winning the presidency is fair and warranted.
Nonetheless, the reflexive defence of Tsai and the DPP by Third Force progressives’ is problematic both politically and strategically. In the several fortnights since the traumatic local election loss, major Third Force figures have been relentlessly focused on the pro-China risks that Han poses for Taiwan. While Han’s actions do need to be rebuked, for Third Force parties this focus is coming at the expense of other socioeconomic issues such as labour exploitations, pollutions, pension reforms, education, and transitional justices. These were the policies where the DPP deeply disappointed Third Force progressives, and the recent coalescing of progressives around Tsai made it seems like these areas where the DPP failed us don’t matter anymore. Yet, are the failure of the DPP in these areas not a major factor in their local election loss?
The abandoning of these issues not only calls into question the political convictions of Third Force parties, but it is also strategically dumb. As Freddy said when he first decided to run for the NPP, the ultimate goal of the party is to offer another pro-Taiwan choice in opposition to the DPP, by displacing the KMT. The distinction between the DPP and the NPP is obviously not going to be between a pro-Taiwan and a pro-China party, although they can differ into the degree they go about it. The difference that is supposed to exist between the two is on the socioeconomic spectrum, a more traditional left-right spectrum we often see in the West. By abandoning the discussion on socioeconomic issues and focusing on narrow cross-strait politics, Third Force parties are making it harder to distinguish between themselves and the DPP, and more vitally, giving up on an opportunity to force the DPP to reflect on what have gone wrong in the past three years that resulted in voters punishing them at the ballot box.
A question we need to ask in reflecting the local election result is: did the DPP lost because they were perceived as too pro-Taiwan? Did the voter really yearn for the supposedly more pro-China days of Ma Ying-jeou? If Tsai had pursued a more China-friendly policy, if that is somehow possible, would the electorate had instead rewarded the DPP in the local election, or not punish the party as badly? Was Han Kuo-yu’s appeal really his pro-China bona fide?
I am willing to hazard an answer, and the answer to all the above is a resounding no.
The DPP lost because they have not been able to better the livelihood of the people. At the same time, they have disappointed many of their bases of support, through policies such as the regressive Labour Standard Act reform, by failing to live up to their promise of transitional justice to aborigines, by dragging their feet on same-sex marriage, by missing the opportunity to pursue comprehensive pension reform and establishing a fair pension for everyone in Taiwan. Han, additionally, did not win because he was pro-China. In fact, in Han’s own campaign, he downplayed his deep pro-China background and instead made a series of absurd promises that nonetheless captured the imagination of a large swath of the public that seeks an answer to their stagnant living conditions. Han won based on his populist rhetoric, despite his pro-China background, not because of it.
The answer to the populist appeal of Han is not a return to the battle of cross-strait politics. The empty populist rhetoric of Han can be countered by a comprehensive progressive politics that respond to the socioeconomic anxiety of Taiwanese, but this is not a void that the DPP will fill. This is where Third Force parties need to come in and forcefully present another alternative.
As it was said in Avatar, the Last Airbender: “… when the world needed him most, he vanished.” The Third Force parties have abandoned their raison d’etre, as was so articulately expressed by Freddy back then, at the very moment that should be theirs. As a young progressive, I look on in frustration.
There is still some time between now and the election. And it is entirely possible that Tsai can squeeze by for a victory on a Taiwan vs. China contest, albeit with a much-reduced legislative presence. Regardless of what happened, I hope progressives in Taiwan will quickly realize what are the forces that lead to the predicament we are in today, and response to it accordingly.
By S, edited by R.