Initiating an Era That Truly Belongs to the People

On Feb. 15, DPP Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen announced her bid to represent the party in the 2016 presidential election and promised a new era in politics
Photo: Ketty W. Chen, DPP International Affairs Division
Tsai Ing-wen

We have finally arrived at this point together, the beginning of a new era.

In 2008, I accepted the responsibility to become chair of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), leading a political party that had not tasted electoral victory in a very long time. Soon thereafter, mockery and sarcasm occurred as regularly as the three meals of the day, while fickleness and snobbery became routine. Yet, together we endured it all. My objective at the time was very clear: I could not permit the DPP to falter, lest Taiwan should end up a country under single-party hegemony.

In recent years, Taiwanese society has experienced intense change. The power of civil society rose rapidly, while “partisan politics” gradually became a word with negative connotation. Last year, under this kind of socio-political atmosphere, I again assumed the position of chairperson of the DPP. In last November’s “nine-in-one” elections, my goal was similarly clear: I could not allow the DPP to weaken; I wanted it to change into a vigorous and strong choice in Taiwan’s politics.

Over the course of a lifetime one can choose different paths. I am never one to fear confronting the past. In elections, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose — that is the essence of democracy. I am sincerely grateful to the 6.09 million people who voted for me in the 2012 presidential election. Your smiles and tears are forever etched in my heart, and your support reaffirmed in me the accuracy of the ideals and directions that I uphold. Of course, I am also thankful to those who voted to re-elect President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九). Your criticism and examination of my capabilities made me realize that I must always be on alert. You who made me stronger by telling me that I needed to do better.

I understand that these have not been the best of the times for everyone. Around all of us, tragic events have occurred almost every day. However, setbacks have never deterred us. In the years after I transformed into a career politician, I have made a profound realization: What is truly amazing about this country is that the more difficult the times get, the more unstoppable the flame of hope within us becomes. Regardless of how gloomy the situation is, the Taiwanese people always find a way not only to surmount the obstacles, but also to turn the situation around for the better with willpower and energy. Every day, I am deeply moved by the Taiwanese people, and take pride in being part of it all.

If you ever visited Dasyueshan in central Taiwan, you may have heard the story of “Mr. Lai the Tree King of Taiwan.” In the past 30 years, Mr. Lai spent millions of dollars to plant hundreds of thousands of trees that are now national treasures. Did he do it for himself? No. “None of these belong to the Lai family. In future these shall all belong to the people of the village of the Earth,” he once said.

Travel through Taidong, and you will perhaps chance upon the “Jien-he Library.” In the library there is someone by the name of “Daddy Chen” who has taken care of the children of the less privileged families with his own means, strength, and love for the community. Over the years, Daddy Chen has become the pillar of support for these children. “The local gangs have been complaining that they cannot find any recruits anymore!” he said.

In Taidong, meanwhile, there is Principal Cheng. After identifying the deep problems that were undermining the Aboriginal education system, Principal Cheng used his own resources and established woodworking and cloth-weaving workshops in the tribal villages, providing local families with respectable alternatives to make a living.

These people and their stories have always been with us. Taiwanese society is blessed with a strong people, a people which, when faced with a government that understands nothing, does nothing, pretends to see nothing, or solves no problems, becomes ever more self-reliant, shouldering all the burdens without regret or remorse. This characteristic is both endearing and admirable.

But as a politician, I believe that the strength and persistence of the people should never become the excuse for a government that watches indifferently from the sidelines.

This, in the end, is precisely the biggest problem faced by Taiwan at this juncture: We no longer have a government that is capable of solving problems. Over the past few years, several “prides of Taiwan” have shone all over the world through their individual achievements, yet the totality of Taiwan has dimmed. It is time that we courageously and honestly asked ourselves the question, If we are no longer one of the four “Asian dragons,” then what are we? If the “633” promise is but an unattainable dream, then what is it that we want?

I have often heard myself saying “God bless Taiwan,” but every time I utter that phrase I tell myself that there will come a day when we no longer need to say it, when people’s suffering will be assuaged by a government that provides protection and shelter. As long as the government is resolute in its fight for the people, the greatness of the people will combine with the capability of the government to create an astonishing momentum. That momentum will enable Taiwan to shine anew, as we did before.

On Feb. 15, 2015, I decided to announce my candidacy for the DPP presidential primary. I want to tell everyone that we are entering an entirely different era. I am not Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), nor am I Ma Ying-jeou. I am Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文). I have my own ideals, and my own perseverance. I believe that the execution of policies rests not only upon calm consideration but also resolute will so that we may confront the challenges ahead. Taiwan needs change, but we must realize that change can sometime be painful. As such, I intend to harness the many strengths of civil society to progressively resolve the various problems that confront our nation. Together, with all of you.

I do not seek to lead Taiwan towards a “DPP era,” nor do I want to usher in an era of Tsai Ing-wen the individual. The period when partisan politics or superstar politicians lead the pack must end. The times have changed. Politicians should initiate an era that truly belongs to the people. A new politics, one that is transparent, clean, and free of corruption, one that is characterized by participation, tolerance, separation of powers and responsibility, and by the solidification of our sovereignty. I shall fight for this goal to the very end.


Tsai Ing-wen is chairperson of the Democratic Progressive Party. A Chinese-language version of this article originally appeared on Chairperson Tsai’s official Facebook page on Feb. 14.

Translated by Christine Yang.

4 Responses to “Initiating an Era That Truly Belongs to the People”

February 16, 2015 at 1:08 pm, Philip K Liu said:

Yes, hope It is not too little and too late for Taiwan. The question is why should we trust DPP again in 2016 after what happens in Tainan? Yes, there was cracks in local politics, but never, never sale your vote. The DPP should fire DPP members of Tainan city council if found any sold his/her vote during the election of council chair, even for one NT$1.00. We understand that DPP may become minority in the city council, this is the only way to stop vote buying and saling practice in Taiwan
Short of it, There is no hope for Taiwan.
God Bless Taiwan!


February 16, 2015 at 2:54 pm, AR said:

I hope to hear more from the DPP about how they will reform the judiciary and fully implement ICCPR and ICESCR in order to bring Taiwan into the international sphere.


February 18, 2015 at 10:25 am, Mike Fagan said:

What journalistic value is there to re-publishing a “written-by-numbers” polemical speech in its’ entirety? If the purpose was to simply inform of her recently announced candidacy, a straightforward news item of say, a paragraph, would have sufficed.


February 24, 2015 at 6:14 am, Mike Fagan said:

“However, setbacks have never deterred us. In the years after I transformed into a career politician, I have made a profound realization: What is truly amazing about this country is that the more difficult the times get, the more unstoppable the flame of hope within us becomes.”

It may only be a bog-standard rhetorical passage, but as much as it is set in the context of Taiwanese people struggling against the odds to thrive, it may actually describe the fault of dogmatism as much as it describes the admirable quality of perseverance. It is commonplace for people to enter into university courses and low-paid or low-margin occupations in which there is considerable competition in numbers – no doubt partly due to the validating function of social comparison.

Arguably what Taiwan lacks the most is people with the creativity and complementary courage to buck the social conventions and social norms that govern them and to actually start new ideas that will inevitably be regarded by their peers as “odd”. I regularly tell students that if they believe they have what it takes, they should eschew university and spend their four years doing something unusual that they find interesting. Nobody ever takes me up on my advice, and instead they go along with the crowd and the expectations / demands of their parents and end up, after four years of pointless university indoctrination, in low-paid, long-hour jobs with little prospects.

Taiwanese are always in the position of looking for and following international trends, and seldom in the position of starting new ones because of the cultural and psychological restraint of conformity. A brave politician would not praise or even just ignore this tendency, but actually challenge the very same Taiwanese electorate they are so used to paying “face” to.


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