Daunting tasks await new Taiwanese premier Jiang Yi-huah

Critics doubt the Harvard graduate, who has had a whirlwind rise to the top, is up to the task of reviving the economy and Ma's fortunes

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 February, 2013, 4:52am

Taiwan's incoming premier, Dr Jiang Yi-huah, faces an uphill battle to revive the island's sluggish economy and restore public trust in the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou, whose popularity is in tatters despite a cabinet reshuffle that's in the works.

Critics are already questioning whether Jiang, 53, will be able to hold on to the post longer than his predecessor, Sean Chen, who submitted his resignation to Ma late last month for "health reasons" after heading the cabinet for a year.

Chen's cabinet resigned yesterday and the new cabinet, led by Jiang, will be sworn in after the Lunar New Year holiday.

Local media have speculated that the real reason for Chen's resignation was his failure to adequately address the island's economic woes, which have taken a toll on Ma's popularity. The president's approval rating slipped to 3 per cent last year, and polls since showed an increase to just 14 per cent.

With the new cabinet set to be inaugurated on February 18, doubts remain as to whether Jiang is capable of heading the administration.

Considered a close confidant of Ma, Jiang is the island's youngest premier in 50 years. With a PhD from Yale, Jiang taught political science at National Taiwan University before being named the island's research head in 2008, the interior minister in 2009 and vice-premier last year.

Survey results show that the public is not familiar with Jiang, given his limited political and government experience

A poll by satellite television broadcaster TVBS found that just 19 per cent of Taiwanese considered Jiang suitable for the job, while 57 per cent had reservations. A poll by the Taipei-based China Times showed that just 26 per cent of people thought he was suitable for the job.

The best numbers, ironically, came from a survey conducted by the main opposition Democratic Progressive Party, which found that 36.7 per cent of respondents believed Jiang was the right person for the job. But just 37.7 per cent had confidence in his ability to lead the cabinet, compared with 48.8 per cent who said he was unfit to lead.

"The survey results show that the public is not familiar with Jiang, given his limited political and government experience," said political analyst Julian Guo, a professor at Chinese Culture University in Taipei.

Guo also said that while Jiang was considered a great professor and capable official, it remained to be seen whether he could handle the premiership, given the complicated political environment in which he must deal with crafty politicians.

Other pundits said Jiang's first test would be resuming talks with the United States under the bilateral Trade and Investment Framework Agreement.

The talks have been seen as the stepping stone towards a Taiwan-US free-trade pact, but the US is demanding Taiwan open its market to American pork, which contains residue of a leanness-enhancing drug that is banned in Taiwan.

Jiang must also deal with hot-button issues such as a soon-to-be-completed fourth nuclear power plant, as well as continued talks with the mainland regarding the cross-strait Economic Co-operation Framework Agreement signed in 2010.

Jiang vowed yesterday to bring prosperity and stability to Taiwan after the cabinet reshuffle. Chen also expressed confidence in Jiang's ability to improve the economy, which is gradually picking up.