Following on the heals of Joe’s post on factionalism in the LDP and the campaign for a new Prime Minister, it’s interesting to note that Taiwan’s DPP (Democratic Progressive Party) just voted to ban factions entirely. The move is designed to help strengthen the party’s central governance in the wake of a series of corruption scandals (even involving members of President Chen Shui-bian’s own family) that have helped to shatter Chen’s reputation as an effective administrator and probably weakened the party’s chances of retaining the presidency and winning back control of the legislature in the next election cycle.
I remain unclear on how this will actually help, however. While there have been a number of DPP affiliated politicians implicated in corruption (although the rates of such taint in the DPP are still lower than in the period of former KMT rule), I am not sure how this is in any way related to the faction system. While a unified party platform may help them win elections, voter discontent with the ruling DPP has had more to do with a lack of competence and integrity than their political rhetoric. Will the elimination of the faction system simply make the party less open to contratian opinions, and come to more closely resemble their Nationalist Party opponents, whose top down decision making system was originally based on a Leninist model?
Perhaps a more desirable solution would be to embrace a system more similar to a US caucus style system, in which a legislator may choose to affiliate themselves with a group organized around a specific issue or constituency that they endorse. While a caucus (they may also be referred to as Study Groups, Coalitions etc.) is a formally registered group within the Congress, they are not exclusive. That is, a congressman can belong to any number of Caucuses that he or she supports. Also unlike a faction, a caucus is not a division of a political party, and not necessarily partisan at all. To pluck an example totally at random, take the Congressional Taiwan Caucus, whose four co-chairs include two Republicans and two Democrats (as well as 148 other congressmembers.) US politics may be bitterly partisan, but the level of cooperation between the two major parties is still approximately a million times better than between Taiwan’s own two major parties.
As for the ostensible reason for eliminating party factions, the DPP national convention did in fact pass a separate anti-corruption resolution, which includes such measures as mandating a special party investigation should a DPP-affiliated government official be charged with corruption. The measure was named in honor of the President’s indicted son-in-law, Chao Chien-ming, who just this past Thursday was seen in the presence of mysterious men in black reputed to be gangsters at his own bail hearing. Following the scandal, Chao’s attorney advised him “to be more careful when seeking assistance from friends.”