As President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) rushes to Kaohsiung to get a handle on the the aftermath of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)’s election defeat, The News Lens visited DPP Legislator Wang Ting-yu (王定宇), a stalwart of the party’s deep-Green base and a member of the Foreign Affairs and National Defense Committee.

In a frank and open discussion in his office, Wang talked about the necessity of cleaning house at the Executive Yuan in January – and the chance of a new presidential candidate emerging from within the DPP ranks, mending bridges with Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) and his team, and the DPP’s failure to communicate with its supporters.

The News Lens: How does the DPP intend to go about regaining the trust of voters in the wake of the election?

Wang Ting-yu: The result of this election is a serious defeat. Comparing with 2014, when the Kuomintang (KMT) was seriously beaten, the situation is different. The DPP carried out what we were trying to do, but the gap between our people’s needs and their satisfaction was quite wide, and we need to fix that. When the KMT lost in 2014, it was because of corruption and their ideology about China – the reasons are quite different.

For example, the changes to working hours in the Labor Standards Act, or with marriage equality, what we tried to do perhaps is correct, but we didn’t communicate with people. We opened too many battles, started so many issues that we needed to defend, and to communicate our reasoning to people, to gain their support. When you lose 30 percent of support on one issue, 30 percent from another issue, and then another, they combine to become the tsunami that we saw last weekend.

TNL: So you are saying the election defeat was the result of a failure of communication?

WTY: Not only communication. If you try to teach voters what is right, rather than listen to them, you have an attitude problem.

TNL: Did you feel there was a disconnection between the Executive Yuan and Legislative Yuan?

WTY: The Legislative Yuan is supposed to be the voice of people, but in the past two years it became the voice of the Executive Yuan. We we have so many legislators around the island – how are they supposed to receive all this chaos, all this misunderstanding, all this dissatisfaction? They experience it daily, not just after the election. When you have that information coming back, you need a check on the Executive Yuan to fix their policies and tactics.

TNL: This reminds me of criticism leveled at the government of Tony Blair when he was Prime Minister of the UK – that the Cabinet was wielding too much power independent of ministers.

WTY: It is quite similar. We became the majority party in the LY, and of course you try to do what you want to do, but when you don’t listen to the people’s voice, to parliament, you lose your sensibility to voters.


Credit: Reuters / TPG

Protesters try to pull down the gates of the Legislative Yuan building during a rally against an overhaul of the military and civil service pension funds in Taipei on April 25, 2018.

TNL: President Tsai acknowledged on Monday that she needs to change, do you think she will?

WTY: I had a private meeting with President Tsai on Monday. She has a strong determination, and she has overcome so many obstacles to reform the pension system, to reform our military, and improve the relationship with the U.S., and the UK, too. But she knows there is a giant gap between her and millions of voters.

Tsai has resigned as the Chairman of the DPP, and the Executive Yuan. The people who are in power will change a lot [but] this month we are dealing with the budget. If Premier [William] Lai (賴清德) and all the senior ministers were changed now, we would need to entirely restart the budget process.

January will be the perfect time to show President Tsai’s thinking on how we can make up the gap, what’s wrong with herself, and the team in the Executive Yuan, what kind of reorganization can show she has revised her approach.

TNL: Premier Lai offered to resign, but was turned down. Do you think there will be a challenger from within the DPP to run for president in 2020?

WTY: Maybe. About Premier Lai, I know he wants to leave, but as I said, it is the national budget session this month. Premier Lai will express his responsibility to this election result in January, in some kind of form [laughter]. Members of the Cabinet will be changed very obviously and on a large scale. For now, the presidential campaign is not an issue. If we raise that issue inside the party, we will be divided.

TNL: Yet the presidential election is not that long away…

WTY: First we have five by-elections to elect legislators into the seats vacated by politicians standing in the local elections; that needs to happen within three months.

TNL: I read comments this morning that you think the DPP should partner with Ko Wen-je to support the DPP candidate in the seat vacated by DPP mayoral candidate Pasuya Yao (姚文智)?

WTY: I used the words that we should “deal with” (chuli, 處理) the relationship.

TNL: What does that mean?

WTY: It is a sensitive choice of words. The basic reason we lost he election is the gap between the government and the people, but on a technical level, we need to chuli several kinds of relationship. For example, we have a bad relationship with Ko’s team, and that caused the younger generation not to vote for the DPP’s candidate. We need to deal with that. One of the five seats is is Pasuya Yao’s, if we don’t deal with the relationship well, Ko will send [his own candidate], and the KMT will take over the seat easily.

TNL: You’re assuming that Ko will create his own political force?

WTY: He can damage the coming election.

TNL: In the run up to the election, you said Ko has ‘no values’, and you strongly supported Pasuya Yao’s candidacy – do you think there was not enough support from the DPP for Pasuya Yao’s campaign to be Taipei mayor, and have you changed your views on Ko Wen-je?

WTY: No, I haven’t changed my opinion about Ko Wen-je. He is not a member of our party. We can’t ask him to follow our principles. To deal with the relationship means: Can we find some way to partner, either for one event or permanently? We can find common ground, just as we can have disputes. I supported Pasuya Yao because he was nominated by our party. The high level directors in our party want to keep a good relationship with Mayor Ko, so our policy became vague and awkward – and that’s a mistake.


Credit: AP / Chiang Ying-ying

Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je celebrates after his victory was announced in the early morning of Sunday, Nov. 25.

TNL: Is it easier to work with Ko now that he is, probably, Taipei mayor?

WTY: Maybe, but he won with such a small margin… For Ko, he must realize if he loses the DPP’s support, he will be in a difficult situation. For the DPP, if we treat Ko as an enemy, we’ll be in a tough situation, too. People have started to talk about how to find our common turf and work together.

TNL: The result in Kaohsiung was a big surprise – do you view that as a blow to the deep Green independence movement in the south?

WTY: It is not. Han Kuo-yu is a good candidate. He knows all the tricks to attract eyeballs. He has a lot of support, from China friendly media, or on the internet. [DPP mayoral candidate] Chen Chi-mai (陳其邁) lost the campaign because our policy in the last two years hurt our supporters’ feelings, even increasing the price of cigarettes by NT$20 (US$0.65), and using the money for longterm medicare for the disabled – that’s a good reason, but for the workers, they think it is just taking away their money. They want to punish the DPP, one time – I hope it is one time! For example motorcycle shops, 90 percent used to support the DPP, but now they support the KMT because they think we want to destroy the industry with measures to improve air pollution. We need to find a way to improve the relationship with our supporters very quickly.

TNL: What would you do?

WTY: Change many of the ministers who are disconnected and hurting our people. Stop or improve the regulations or laws that are damaging our people. Thirdly, create new policy that make our supporters feel we are listening to them, and which can be carried out in one session. We are working on that. And finally to deal with both the relationship with Ko Wen-je and the younger generation, and the deep-Green supporters of ex-President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).

TNL: If you put one policy forward, what would it be?

WTY: For those DPP supporters, farmers, or young people in the city struggling to pay their rent, we need to do something concrete to improve their lives. Our economic performance is quite good compared with Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), but people can’t feel it. Big enterprise gets the benefit, not them. Our stock market performance is the best in 18 years, so the task is to pass on the benefit to blue-collar workers. The strong economic performance has improved the government’s fiscal position. We have so much tax income – we need to use that to improve the lot of young people and farmers.

TNL: What about the future of the One Side One Country Alliance (一邊一國連線)?

WTY: It is a highly political issue, and is just a reality in Taiwan. But to focus on that issue, is not a smart strategy for now in Taiwan. People don’t feel the threat – it’s not an immediate threat. People don’t think you need to focus on that when contesting regional politics. It’s not a hot issue that people care about now. People have taught the DPP an important lesson – so-called right things, are not necessarily the right things for the people.

TNL: Finally, the DPP highlighted the role of disinformation and fake news from China in the lead up to the elections, do you think it affected the result?

WTY: Disinformation played a very important negative role in this election. The DPP will and must deal with these two issues to protect our democracy. However, we won’t count them as the main factors which caused our failure in the election.

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Editor: Nick Aspinwall (@Nick1Aspinwall)

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