Taiwan politics

Tsai Ing-wen

Taiwan’s president-elect Tsai Ing-wen faces crisis as cabinet quits en masse

Island’s premier leads resignation of 44 members in apparent move to force the president-elect to assume early responsibility for governing

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 January, 2016, 12:32am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 January, 2016, 1:57am

Taiwan’s entire cabinet resigned on Monday afternoon, risking a shutdown of the island’s government and handing president-elect Tsai Ing-wen her first test in managing a crisis.

Tsai, who won the election on Saturday and steered her Democratic Progressive Party to a legislative majority, will be inaugurated on May 20. The shake-up adds another demand to her already crowded list of tasks before taking over.

Outgoing Premier Mao Chi-kuo led the departure of the 44 cabinet members and vowed he wouldn’t remain even after outgoing President Ma Ying-jeou of the Kuomintang rejected his resignation.

The KMT, which suffered its worst loss in the election, also ­entered a new round of infighting after its losing presidential ­candidate and chairman, Eric Chu Li-luan, resigned to take ­responsibility.

Meanwhile, the island’s key ally, the US, sent former deputy secretary of state William Burns to meet Tsai. Washington also intends to send Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Beijing this week.

Tsai told Burns she would shoulder the responsibility of maintaining regional peace and stability, the Central News Agency reported, in a veiled reference to how her administration would handle its relations with the mainland. Her administration would maintain close, friendly relations with the United States and promote cooperation with Washington in all areas, especially economic and industrial matters, the agency quoted her as saying.

Under Taiwanese law, the vice-premier becomes the acting head of the cabinet if the premier steps down. Mao’s deputy, Simon Chang San-cheng, assumed that role on Monday, but it’s unclear for how long. Chang told reporters all cabinet members would follow Mao in stepping down, and he had his own career plans.

Tsai previously rejected an ­offer by Ma to hand over control of the Executive Yuan so she could appoint the premier of her choice and form a new team, smoothing the way for the new leadership.The resignations appear aimed at forcing her hand, with cabinet spokesman Sun Li-chyun saying Mao “hoped” the majority party would take charge of forming the council.

Making Chu stay would create massive harm for the KMT
Lee Cheng-hao, Kuomintang youth leader, on the resignation of its chairman, eric Chu

Analysts said Tsai must also tackle other imminent problems in the next four months, which included getting acquainted with the changed face of parliament politics, rewarding allies who helped her win power, and handling relations with the mainland.

She is expected to outline her cross-strait policy during her inauguration speech, said Tung Cheng-yuan, a professor at the Graduate Institute of Development Studies at National Chengchi University.

That speech will indicate how Tsai plans to maintain goodwill with Beijing while keeping her supporters and much of the public happy by emphasising Taiwan’s sovereignty and distinct identity.

“She may have to oversee the passage of a bill in parliament on the oversight of future agreements with China before her inauguration,” Tung said. The issue has blocked the ratification of a trade pact already signed with Beijing.

But Lin Cheng-yi, research fellow at Taiwan’s Academia Sinica, said the newly formed New Power Party, which is wary of close ties with the mainland, will become a key minority group deciding legislative bills.

At KMT headquarters, an emotional Eric Chu stepped down as party chairman during the party’s central standing committee meeting to take full responsibility for the crushing defeat. It remains unclear who will succeed him.

There was a proposal by some KMT stalwarts to make Chu stay, but it failed to win committee approval. “Making Chu stay would create massive harm for the KMT,” said Lee Cheng-hao, executive director of the KMT’s Youth Committee. The party should focus on solving a shortage of capable young successors.