Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen underscored her moderate political stance yesterday by attending the 104th Double Ten Day celebrations in Taipei. Observed in Taiwan as the national day of the Republic of China, Double Ten commemorates the start of the Wuchang Uprising on 10 October 1911 which led to the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty and the beginning of a new republican era in China.
A rare show of unity was on display at the celebrations, with Tsai seated between Eric Chu and James Soong, chairmen of the Kuomintang and the People’s First Party respectively. Behind them was Hung Hsiu-chu, vice president of the Legislative Yuan and Kuomintang candidate for the 2016 presidential elections.
Writing on her Facebook page a day before the celebrations, Tsai said she hoped that her appearance at Double Ten would mark a “new normal” in Taiwan.
“For a long time, it has been a touchy political subject whether or not opposition parties should attend National Day celebrations,” she wrote. “But, as I have always emphasised, if we were to keep magnifying our differences, there is no way we will ever arrive at a common path.”
“Our nation is facing a turning point in history. At this crucial moment, I want to use my presence to let people know we are determined to respect differences, willing to seek consensus, and unrelenting in building unity,” she added. “What we need now is not just to unite a party, but to unite a nation.”
At the ceremony, Tsai also refused to sing the two words “吾党” (lit. “our party”), a reference to the Kuomintang in the national anthem. Centred upon Sun Yat-sen’s political philosophy, The Three Principles of the People, the song was originally party anthem of the Kuomintang, before it was officially adopted as national anthem during the Second World War in 1943. Previously, at similar events, Tsai would have omitted the first three to four lines of the anthem altogether.
Down south, Taichung’s DPP mayor Lin Chia-lung did not sing the first two lines of the anthem (“Three Principles of the People, the foundation of our party”), and also refused to salute the flag. The red flag with a navy blue canton bearing a white sun with twelve triangular rays was first used by the Kuomintang as party flag in 1917 before it was enshrined as the official flag of the Republic of China in 1928.
Back in the capital, Taipei’s independent mayor Ko Wen-je did not attend the flag-raising ceremony. Probed by the media, Ko said his no-show was not meant to be a snub at president Ma Ying-jeou. “As long as everyone is happy, that’s great. It’s not my style to attend something so sombre,” he explained. “Taipei’s vision is to be a city where people live in joy and harmony. If you’re going to make this like a temple fair each time, that’s just not me.”
Kuomintang in shambles
Factional turmoil within the ruling party could see the Kuomintang headed for a humiliating defeat at the polls in January. Pro-unification candidate Hung Hsiu-chu who won the party ticket after a meteoric rise when other senior figures were unwilling to step up to the plate, looks set to be thrown under the bus by party stalwarts who are now supporting Eric Chu.
That eventuality seems like a forgone conclusion now that Ma Ying-jeou has made his stance clear.
“Half a year ago, at a time when no one else within the Kuomintang stood up, vice president Hung Hsiu-chu stepped forward, and for that, she deserves our full respect,” he said. “At this moment though, we hope that there can be more communication between chairman Chu and Hung. I support the stand made by the Central Standing Committee.”
In one survey, only 26% of Taiwanese voters supported the Kuomintang’s plan to change its presidential candidate. 46% opposed the plan.
Under the status quo, 40.2% of voters said they would be voting for Tsai Ing-wen, more than twice the number of people who said they would support Hung Hsiu-chu (18.5%), just slightly ahead of James Soong (14.1%).
A laste minute candidate swap by the Kuomintang could see Tsai’s vote share move up to 42.1%. Eric Chu (19%) would only improve the party’s standing marginally.
In Ma Ying-jeou’s final National Day speech as president yesterday, the term “status quo” appeared 15 times.
In what was perhaps a veiled statement to Hung Hsiu-chu and her pro-unification supporters, Ma put up a vigorous defense of his record, saying, “the government’s cross-strait policy of the past seven years is not biased towards mainland China while selling out Taiwan. Nor does it undermine our sovereignty. In fact, maintaining the status quo has become mainstream public opinion.”
Hung Hsiu-chu, for her part, has made it clear she would not be backing down anytime soon. Her supporters have labelled Eric Chu a “traitor” and some are calling on her to resign from the Kuomintang to go it alone.
As the wheel turns again, it looks like Tsai Ing-wen’s time has come to be Taiwan’s first female president.