In a perfect world a strong, united opposition helps keep a democratically elected government on its toes and accountable - and gives the voters a realistic alternative when the time comes to turn the incumbents out of office for a period of political and policy renewal. That assumes that the opposition does not make itself unelectable by promoting policies that fail to reflect prevailing public opinion. An example of sorts is Taiwan's main opposition group the Democratic Progressive Party. Pundits say the decisive factor in the defeat of its 2008 presidential candidate, Dr Tsai Ing-wen, by Ma Ying-jeou in 2008 was the DPP's anti-mainland policy. She later admitted the DPP needed to modify its cross-strait policy to attract neutral voters who opted for stability instead of tension.
Now she has suddenly become the only candidate for leadership of the DPP, which would give her a ticket to run for president again in 2016. The withdrawals of two rivals for the sake of party unity, current party chairman Su Tseng-chang and former premier Frank Hsieh Cheng-ting, promise to bring relief to a party long troubled by factional infighting and indecision about its cross-strait policy. Among observers across the strait, she is seen as likely to be more flexible on this issue. Analysts in Taipei say a united DPP under Tsai would now pose a serious threat to the ruling Kuomintang in both year-end local government and council polls and the 2016 election.
This has all come as a shock to the KMT, which was relying on the DPP's internal troubles to distract attention from its own and boost its election chances. But it might turn out to be a blessing in disguise, if it jolts the KMT out of the electoral vortex of Ma's disastrous poll ratings, economic woes, party infighting and deafness to public opinion, such as the attempt to gag further debate on a cross-strait trade services agreement. Beijing has reacted quickly to student protests on this issue by ramping up cross-strait youth exchange programmes aimed at increasing understanding. The KMT needs to take note. Voters deserve a real choice that balances the need to drive economic growth with cross-strait stability.