DPP congress poised for conflict over gangsters, Chen Shui-bian

Opposition party is expected to discuss gangsters' alleged infiltration, disgraced ex-leader's return, and revision of its cross-strait policies

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 25 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 25 May, 2013, 5:32am

Confrontations between rival camps on a range of controversial issues - including reports of infiltration by gangsters and what to do about a disgraced former party chief - are expected at the annual congress of Taiwan's main opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) today.

As well as reports of gangsters joining the party as nominal members and the planned return to the party of former president Chen Shui-bian, now in jail for corruption, a motion by younger members seeking a revision of the party's cross-strait policies is also likely to raise tempers.

Didn't anyone know it would be a big disaster for him to return to the party?
Lin Cho-shui, a former DPP legislator

More than 430 DPP members at the congress will decide which direction to take on major motions such as reform of the party's recruitment and nomination systems, Chen's return and its cross-strait policies, among other contentious issues.

Media reports last month of an unusual increase in membership applications this year - to 31,000 - shocked the public because most were reportedly members of two major organised crime groups.

The DPP has some 260,000 members, but only 150,000 are considered active members who have paid membership fees and enjoy voting and other rights within the party.

DPP heavyweight Ker Chien-ming, an ally of party chairman Su Tseng-chang, is accused of being behind mass applications from members of the Heavenly Way Gang, with media reports saying he hoped to rally more members to his camp to boost Su, who is believed to be eying re-election when his current term ends next May.

Lin Wen-yao, a chief aide of another DPP heavyweight, Frank Hsieh Chang-ting, is also accused of involvement in the drafting of thousands of Four Seas Gang members to apply for party membership to boost Hsieh's chances of securing the party chairmanship next year.

Under the DPP's nomination system, candidates running for the chairmanship and other senior party posts are elected by party members through primary elections.

This means that whoever has the most support from party members will be eligible to run for those posts. This has resulted in reports of the existence of nominal or dummy party members, mobilised or even paid by DPP members who want to boost their influence within the party.

Both Ker and Lin have dismissed the accusations as groundless and malicious, but Su ordered an investigation into them. He later also asked for a revision of the party's recruitment regulations, barring those involved in organised crime and/or who had committed drug offences from joining the party, and allowing only members of at least two years' standing to vote in the primaries.

Professor Hsu Yung-ming, a political scientist at Soochow University in Taipei, said that with rival factions wanting to boost their influence and power, the "nominal member problem" had existed and troubled the DPP for many years. "Given that it is a constant source of factional struggles and internal rifts, the DPP should seriously think of adopting a reasonable system to do away with the so-called nominal members," Hsu said.

While the proposed revisions are expected to result in heated debate at today's DPP congress, another controversial issue - the restoration of Chen's membership - could split the party if not handled properly, analysts said.

"Didn't anyone know it would be a big disaster for him to return to the party?" asked political commentator Lin Cho-shui, a former DPP legislator.

Lin said that after having forced Chen to quit in order to distance the party from its ex-leader in 2008, it was incredible that many within the party would now "welcome" Chen back, thinking he could help solicit votes from the hardcore pro-independence camp and help the DPP regain power in 2016.

Former party chairman Hsu Hsin-liang said it would only scare away neutral voters if the DPP once again embraced Chen.

Meanwhile, a group of younger DPP members will submit a motion today urging the party to hold a "grand debate" over what they called a lack of clarity and direction in its cross-strait policies. They said the debate was necessary if the DPP hoped to convince the public it had the ability to manage this issue.