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June 24, 2017

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With Tsai a shoo-in, Su may be gambling on 2016 race

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- With elections for the Democratic Progressive Party's (DPP) chairman approaching, two of the three hopefuls dropped a bomb on the first day of candidate registrations. Both incumbent Chairman Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) and former Premier Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) announced that they will be withdrawing their candidacy, leaving only former Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) in the race.

A one-candidate competition is just as good as a victory for Tsai, who won even before she filled in the registration forms. The move received approval from many intraparty voices including former Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮), DPP caucus whip Ker Chien-ming (柯建銘) and Kaohsiung mayor Chen Chu (陳菊). All weathered politicians, many doubling as the DPP's original founders, supported Su and Hsieh's choice as many had long wished for leading roles to be passed on to the younger pan-greens, of which Tsai is a representative. Some sighs of relief may be induced by Su's readiness to let go of the long-standing iciness between Tsai and himself.

It is not news to the Taiwanese that Su and Tsai were never on friendly terms with each other. Things were especially rocky after the relationship was dubbed by pan-green physician Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) as the DPP's "two suns" that were fighting for attention. Though stinging to both Su and Tsai, the famous moniker and its inventor — one of the Taipei mayoral hopefuls — went forgotten after the student movement reared its head and challenged the government authorities on a cross-strait trade pact.

Eager to support the anti-ruling-party students, Su, Tsai and Hsieh all participated in the first wave of sit-ins and later in the Executive Yuan occupation; their attempts to "protect" the unarmed students against the riot police received lukewarm recognition from the protestors at first, but dropped rapidly after the leaders were accused of "reaping" the students' hard work. Their participation only succeeded in labeling the demonstrators as "pan-green" and "pro-Taiwan independence," scattering the public's focus and replacing the students' motives with the age-old feud between the blues and greens.

Face-saving For Two Years Later

After the reaping and the attention-grabbing, Su and Hsieh backed out of the game to save face and the party's image — which could suffer no more blows with the mayoral elections looming. It is crucial for the DPP to put aside its intraparty differences and stay united at this stage; keeping a low profile and passing the coveted position to a younger candidate is a wise step for Su after so many wrong-footed ones.

But behind his affection for the party he founded and the unwillingness to see it torn apart, Su may have been focusing on victory in the long run, believing the election of Tsai as chairwoman will somehow lower the possibility of her running for president in two years, as both the ruling Kuomintang and the DPP has faced public criticism and doubt when its chairperson was also vying for the presidency.

Su has two years to scrub himself clean of past errors and redeem himself, while Tsai is granted a position in the spotlight — where every single mistake will be blown up and reproved by many. The student movement has been a release of positive energy amid six years of public resentment; the DPP should be preserving that positivity and staying together, Tsai said after her fellow candidates' withdrawal. However, a lot may change in two years.

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