l Following the announcement last month by former Premier Su Tseng-chang to seek the presidential nomination of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), the opposition appeared set for the month-long presidential primary to nominate the “most likely to win” candidate, opposite President Ma Ying-jeou from the ruling Kuomintang (KMT), in the 2012 showdown.
l Besides Su, DPP Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen has also made public her intentions to run in early March and filed the necessary papers with the party headquarters. The two candidates are expected to travel extensively throughout the island in the next three to four weeks before the DPP conducts three independent polls, now scheduled for April 25-29, to decide on the nominee. An official announcement is set for May 4.
l The DPP’s presidential primary has long been expected to be a contest between Tsai and Su. As such, the last-minute surprise registration by former DPP Chairman Hsu Hsin-liang to become a presidential candidate would have very little, if any, impact on the outcome.
l Hsu, who first broke away from the DPP and became an independent candidate in the 2000 presidential contest, is fully aware that his chances of winning the nomination are, at best, remote. However, since he would like to make the DPP primary more issue-oriented, Hsu pans to “force” both Tsai and Su, through his participation, to address many pressing issues facing Taiwan and each present a blueprint on managing affairs of the state—from wealth distribution to cross-Strait relations—if the DPP returns to power next year. Hsu is, therefore, expected to be very vocal and assertive in the next few weeks.
l As for the competition between Tsai and Su, it will mostly be a contrast of personality, style, and, of course, policy. While Tsai is expected to emphasize the need for a generational change in the DPP leadership, Su will remind supporters the value of his vast experience and record in office, particularly during the seven years when he was the Taipei County (now New Taipei City) magistrate.
l In addition, Su plans to draw attention to the efforts and commitment he made to the opposition movement during its formative years, which made freedom and democracy possible for the younger generations of DPP politicians, including Tsai, to enjoy today.
l On the other hand, Tsai will highlight her success in reviving the DPP and rejuvenating morale following its embarrassing defeat in the 2008 presidential race and how she was able to record consecutive election victories against the KMT with limited resources. At the same time, as the youngest contender at 54, Tsai plans to present a new vision for the DPP, one in which the party moves away from ideological confrontation of the past and present itself as a credible, viable alternative to the KMT in the years ahead.
l Furthermore, since she is aware that others will question her for her inexperience and the “lack of administrative accomplishments,” Tsai will likely try to appeal to those 45 and under since these “young stakeholders” are more interested in what a candidate can offer for the future, not dwell on the past. According to various estimates, the number of first-time voters, or those who did not qualify to cast ballots during the 2008 elections, is estimated to be around one million, which will represent a significant voting bloc that no one, including KMT’s Ma, could afford to ignore in both the 2012 legislative and presidential poll.
l Immediately after the formalization of Tsai’s and Su’s candidacy, a leading local news publication, the China Times, published results of its survey on the level of support for the three prospective presidential candidates—Su and Tsai from the DPP and Ma of the KMT—in the 2012 presidential showdown. With roughly nine months left in the campaign, Ma is ahead of both Su and Tsai by 6 percentage points each.
l Though the difference separating the candidates was bigger than the margin of survey error, it is too close for the KMT and Ma to sit comfortably on this narrow lead. The economy will remain the key for Ma and the ruling KMT.
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