Taiwan’s new premier sworn in, promises to be pragmatic, down-to-earth

Lai urges new cabinet members to roll up their sleeves and get to work immediately

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 September, 2017, 2:44pm
UPDATED : Friday, 15 September, 2017, 2:04pm

Taiwan’s new Premier William Lai and his cabinet were officially sworn in on Friday, ushering in a new political era that he vowed would be “down-to-earth and pragmatic”.

Speaking at the handover ceremony at the Executive Yuan, Lai said his primary task was to develop the economy and improve people’s well-being rather than to build political momentum ahead of the next election.

The 57-year-old premier was referring to speculation that his appointment was a ploy to lift the sagging fortunes of President Tsai Ing-wen’s Democratic Progressive Party before next year’s nationwide local elections, or even to build his own political capital for a potential run at the presidency.

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Neither was his mission to further the interests of a particular party faction, the former mayor of Tainan said, hitting back at media conjecture that he was working solely to advance the DPP’s New Tide faction of which Tsai is a leader.

“The new cabinet is neither ‘combative’ nor ‘election-oriented’ as some media have called it,” he said. “Instead, it is down-to-earth and pragmatic.”

Lai urged his new cabinet members to roll up their sleeves and get to work immediately because they do not have the luxury of a “honeymoon period”, let alone a “trial period”.

“We must make great strides in deepening Taiwan’s reform and transformation based on the foundation established by Premier Lin Chuan,” Lai said, referring to his predecessor who quit over the weekend.

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Lai has asked a majority of Lin’s cabinet ministers to stay on, including Cabinet Spokesman Hsu Kuo-yung, Mainland Affairs Council Minister Katharine Chang, Defence Minister Feng Shih-kuang and Foreign Minister David Lee.

A medical doctor by training, Lai hails from the northern city of New Taipei. His father was a coal miner who died in a workplace accident when Lai was only an infant.

As the youngest child of a poor family, Lai was encouraged to pursue education, majoring in rehabilitation medicine at National Taiwan University before travelling abroad to obtain an advanced degree from the School of Public Health at Harvard University in the United States.

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Returning to Taiwan in the 1980s, Lai first practised medicine at National Cheng Kung University Hospital in Tainan and then ventured into politics. He started as a campaign aide and worked his way up to being a representative in the now disbanded National Congress before serving four terms as a legislator.

Lai became Tainan mayor in 2010 and was reelected in 2014.