Tsai Ing-wen

Taiwanese premier resigns amid rising public discontent, but says he completed his major missions

Tainan mayor William Lai Ching-te favourite to replace Lin Chuan, announcement to be made on Tuesday

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 September, 2017, 1:51pm
UPDATED : Monday, 04 September, 2017, 10:57pm

Taiwan will appoint a new premier and form a new cabinet later this week following the resignation of incumbent Lin Chuan amid growing criticism of the government’s performance.

Tainan Mayor William Lai Ching-te is seen as the most likely successor, though the appointment is not expected to bring about any substantial changes to the island’s policy regarding China’s mainland, as that is controlled by President Tsai Ing-wen, analysts said.

However, cross-strait ties are facing fresh uncertainty because of the upcoming 19th congress of China’s Communist Party at which there is likely to be a major personnel reshuffle, they said.

Lin announced his resignation at a news conference in Taipei on Monday, saying it was time for him to leave as he had completed the three major missions he had vowed to accomplish after being appointed by Tsai as cabinet leader in May last year.

“I had already discussed with President Tsai in June about my plan to resign,” Lin said, adding that he had no intention of staying after achieving the goals of ensuring a smooth transfer of power, consolidating Tsai’s campaign promises, and laying a firm foundation for national development.

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The outgoing premier said he hoped his resignation would be beneficial to Tsai in the next stage of her governance in Taiwan.

In a statement, the Presidential Office said Lin submitted his resignation to Tsai on Sunday, and after a long talk, Tsai approved it. Lin’s replacement would be announced at a news conference on Tuesday, it added.

Lin, a 65-year-old former finance minister and close confidant of Tsai, had been under mounting pressure to step down. He had been blamed for pushing through controversial reforms, which although part of Tsai’s campaign promises, seriously upset workers, employers, retired civil servants and military servicemen.

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Wave after wave of protests against Tsai – who also heads the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party – and her government have been staged since last year. As a result, Tsai’s approval rating slid to a low of 28 per cent last month from a high of 70 per cent when she took power from the Kuomintang in the presidential election of January 2016.

“In Taiwan it is traditional for premiers to take the blame for a government’s poor showing,” said Liao Da-chi, a political science professor at National Sun Yat-sen University in Kaohsiung.

The growing discontent made it necessary for Lin to sacrifice himself to save Tsai, especially with crucial local government elections likely to take place next year, she said.

As to whether Lai, who is generally regarded as a capable and efficient mayor, could turn public opinion around was conditional on him being given the authority to do so, Liao said.

Only if he were permitted to make important decisions on personnel and policy changes – like adjusting the controversial labour reforms – would Lai be able to do something to help shore up public support for the government, she said.

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Analysts said they did not expect major cross-strait policy changes following the formation of a new cabinet.

“Taiwan’s president, not premier, is the one responsible for cross-strait, foreign and defence policies, and even if Lai took over from Lin as the new cabinet head, he wouldn’t be able to change cross-strait policy,” said Wang Kung-yi, a political science professor at Chinese Culture University in Taipei.

With a power reshuffle coming up at next month’s party congress, Tsai will have to find ways to deal with a new cross-strait situation, which could sour if she continues to refuse to accept the “1992 consensus” and the “one-China principle,” – an understanding made in 1992 that Beijing considers a political foundation for cross-strait exchanges, which have been suspended by the mainland since June last year.