High hopes as Jiang Yi-huah grabs the premier's reins in Taiwan

It's only day one, but speculation about the new leader's chances in island's 2016 presidential election is already flying thick and fast

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 February, 2013, 5:14am

Taiwan's new premier, Jiang Yi-huah, was officially sworn in on Monday, becoming the island's third most powerful man and a potential frontrunner for the 2016 presidential election.

Analysts said his appointment was a blow to the chances of Vice-President Wu Den-yih and New Taipei Mayor Eric Chu Li-luan, also seen as possible Kuomintang candidates for president.

But they said Jiang, 52, would have to improve Taiwan's sagging economy and introduce reforms - including a controversial pension system and the commissioning of the island's fourth nuclear power plant - in order to have a chance at running for the island's top post.

Jiang, who has a doctorate in political science from Yale, led other cabinet members yesterday in a swearing-in ceremony supervised by President Ma Ying-jeou at the Presidential Office, replacing the former cabinet led by financial expert Sean Chen.

Chen resigned late last month for "health reasons" at a time when Ma's approval rating had plunged to a low of 13 per cent following mounting public criticism of his government's failure to address the island's persistent economic woes and declining living standards.

Ma said yesterday the new cabinet should "do the best job possible" to boost the economy. He also asked it to quickly generate concrete results, given his administration's poor showing in public opinion polls.

Jiang's heading the cabinet now raises the possibility of his becoming another potential frontrunner from the KMT for the 2016 race

At a later cabinet handover ceremony, Jiang pledged to do all he could to speed up government reforms and improve communication between his cabinet and the KMT on major government policies.

"Premier Jiang has noted that in formulating important policies, it is a must to first gather all opinions from various sectors, then set priorities in delivering those policies in a well co-ordinated and co-operative manner," cabinet spokeswoman Cheng Li-wen said after the handover ceremony.

A lack of co-ordination and communication with KMT lawmakers and government officials was cited by local news media as one of the weak points of Chen's cabinet. He failed to deliver on policies aimed at improving the economy due to a lack of support from KMT lawmakers.

Ma's second four-year term will end in May 2016 and Wu and Chu had been seen as his most likely successors due to their years of political service within the KMT.

"Jiang's heading the cabinet now raises the possibility of his becoming another potential frontrunner from the KMT for the 2016 race," said Hsu Yung-ming, associate professor of political science at Soochow University.

But political commentator Yang Hsien-hung said Jiang would first have to prove he was capable of running the new cabinet, improving the economy and pushing through government reforms. "If not, it is unlikely he will survive the crucial local elections in 2014," Yang said.

Analysts said a victory in the local polls would be a decisive factor in whether the KMT could retain power in 2016, with Jiang's performance likely to be the deciding factor come election time.