Saturday, February 22, 2014

Beware of the arrows

If the DPP wants a real shot at regaining high office and fixing this country, it’ll have to clean up its act and rid itself of the dinosaurs and backstabbers

With the year-end seven-in-one and the 2016 presidential election approaching fast, I am reminded of what a wise man once observed about politics in Taiwan: “Beware of the arrows, especially those from within your own camp.” By arrows, the wise man meant the people in one’s political camp who will get very nasty as they endeavor to protect their narrow interests or those of their masters.

Recent efforts from within the green camp to discredit Ko Wen-je (柯文哲), the head of the Traumatology Unit at National Taiwan University and a potential candidate for the Taipei mayoral race, are a perfect example of this type of cannibalism. I’ve already addressed the issue in the context of “political dinosaurs,” and I now wish to expand on the theme of infighting, which is not unrelated to the prior notion.

While I’m sure there is a good share of dinosaurs and backstabbing within the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), my previous and current jobs have yielded more intimate insights into the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)-led pan-green camp, and this is the one that I intend to turn to in this entry, if only because it is the corner of the political spectrum that stands to lose the most from internecine battles. By doing so, I also intend to debunk the notion that the DPP cannot win elections because of the “unfair” and “imbalanced” political environment in Taiwan, which admittedly is skewed in the KMT’s favor, but not so much as to make victories impossible. After all, Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) did get elected in 2000 and was re-elected in 2004, at a time when the KMT’s fortunes were just as impressive.

What I have repeatedly witnessed from my vantage point as a journalist operating within a “green” environment is the self-defeating tendency of cliques to take a short-term, selfish, and extraordinarily myopic view of electoral politics, a one-against-all mindset that makes unity impossible and divisiveness a permanent state. Politicians do is, as do the sycophantic writers, academics, and journalists who gravitate round them. Rather than fight for the good of the country, they limit themselves to parochial and very narrow interests — getting elected. In the process, anything goes and all measures are brought into the ring, however ugly: smear campaigns, outright lies, defamation, and fabrication. Once those are repeated often enough in a media environment that, frankly, couldn’t care less about ethics, the lies eventually take on the garb of “truth” and can turn into powerful weapons by which to destroy one’s political opponent within the same camp. A receptive audience — both here in Taiwan and abroad among expatriates — that has a special taste for conspiracy theories and cannot bothered to check the facts (e.g., evidence that would support the claim that Ko, the most viable candidate within the green camp* at the moment, is a pawn of Beijing; or the political connections of an author making allegations against a candidate), only exacerbates the problem. Some members of the DPP, including a would-be contender for Taipei City, have a long history of turning on their own in such fashion, attacking potential (and younger) rivals with a web of lies. Others have done so using other easy targets, including gender (“skirts have no place in politics”) and family background (“politician X is from a KMT family and therefore cannot be trusted”).

In the end, the real losers from all this are the DPP itself, which often ends up fielding candidates that are not necessarily the most qualified, but are the savviest at playing nasty against their own people. And Taiwanese themselves, who end up with options that are disappointing and therefore leave them few options to choose from during elections. Facing this, the KMT need not even field extraordinary candidates to win elections. And the party wonders why young Taiwanese are turned off by politics…

The problem is that the green camp has allowed this to become standard practice. Those who engage in such behavior rarely, if ever, suffer the consequences of their acts, while the hopefuls who could make a difference or who refuse to stoop down to the level of the gutters, are quickly sidelined, dragged down by the muck of lies and hearsay thrown at them from all sides.

If the DPP wants a real shot at regaining high office and fixing this country, it’ll have to clean up its act and rid itself of the dinosaurs and backstabbers. (Photo by the author)

*Ko will likely run as an independent, but anyone who bothers to look into the people who are close to and support him should have no doubts as to where his heart lies.

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