Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Seven Years, Six Prime Ministers

Seven Years, Six Prime Ministers
China Times editorial
translated by Bevin Chu
May 15, 2007

After following the headlines and assembling the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle, the reason Prime Minister Su abruptly resigned has become clear. It was not that Su wanted to help Chen arrange a new strategic scenario. It was that Chen wanted to organize a "wartime cabinet" as quickly as possible. If Su had insisted on remaining premier, he would have become an obstacle in Chen's way. But if Su's presence disturbed Chen and Frank Hsieh so much, what kind of premier can Chang Chun-hsiung be?

The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has been in power for seven years. Accounts of how one prime minister after another left office could fill volumes. Most provocative is the fact that besides Tang Fei, the very first prime minister appointed by Chen Shui-bian, who resigned over Chen's order to halt construction on the Number Four Nuclear Plant, every prime minister has been replaced in accordance with the requirements of power struggles. The offices of the prime minister, the party chairman, and the secretary general of the presidential office have become seats in a game of musical chairs. Members of the nomenklatura who have been anointed the "princes" of the party have been swapping places. This does not mean that Chen Shui-bian is a modern day Machiavelli, but that the status of these offices have been thoroughly debased.

Besides Chen Shui-bian, nearly all of the DPP's princes have had their turn as prime minister, including Chang Chun-hsiung, who was just appointed prime minister for the second time. What is interesting is that none of these princes received much support during their terms of office. Instead they have been victims caught in the crossfire between the president and the legislature, rapidly eroding whatever prestige or charisma they might once have enjoyed.

Think back to the euphoria when Frank Hsieh resigned as mayor of Kaohsiung in order to serve as prime minister. One year later, when Su replaced Hsieh, compare the dramatically altered status of the two rivals. Su's popularity ratings were once so low he was almost omitted from the list of "potential successors." Compare that to Hsieh's desolation and humble posture as he was pushed to the margins of power. Who would have guessed that a year later their situations would be reversed? That Su Tseng-chang, despite his advantages as prime minister, would see his popularity ratings plummet? That Frank Hsieh, despite his low popularity ratings, would climb out of his hole, and go from someone with nothing to Green Camp presidential candidate? As far as Su and Hsieh are concerned, assuming the position of prime minister did not allow them to get closer to the presidency, it merely pushed them farther away.

In other words, under Chen Shui-bian's reign, assuming the duties of prime minister has become a kind of Faustian bargain. On the one hand, the prime minister enjoys enormous resources, making it difficult to resist the seduction of the office. But everyone who has assumed the position of prime minister has been abused and devalued. For the past seven years, the reality of a ruling minority in the legislature has never changed. Chen Shui-bian, the real wielder of power, has never given back any of the power he illegally usurped from the prime minister. Add to this a media which seizes upon every opportunity to play up the issue, and you have a situation in which the office of Prime Minister of the Republic of China is the swiftest means of destroying the future of Taiwan's political elite.

Few worry about the fact that according to the constitution the prime minister and not the president is the nation's highest executive, and that according to the constitution he must answer to the legislature. If Su Tseng-chang should resign, he should resign over the five month old deadlock in the legislature over the general budget. He should not resign to help Chen Shui-bian prepare a new strategic scenario. The problem is that everyone is eager to participate in this game of musical chairs. Nobody cares about constitutionalism and the rule of law.

In other words, changing prime ministers six times in seven years has never been about anything but power. The least important consideration is the continuity of policy. The one question we most want to ask is: If Chang Chun-hsiung is returning, does that mean that his "8100, Taiwan Starts Moving Economic Stimulus Plan" is going to be resurrected? Members of Su's cabinet are busy packing and leaving. Su had just kicked off his "Great Investments, Great Warmth" plan. Is all activity about to cease in light of the change in prime ministers? Is everything going to be treated as if it never happened?

Six prime ministers in seven years, like a carousel lantern going around and around, up and down, all the while changing teams. Each and every one promoting his own master plan. Each and every one offering matching slogans. Cabinet members no sooner learn the ropes, than they are forced out of office by regime change. Presidents of the five yuan and ministers seem to be "just passing through." Every prime minister upon arrival declares that he will "explore new possibilities." Every prime minister upon departure declares that he has "other plans in life." No one shoulders any responsibility for the fact that policies and plans are endlessly undermined and overturned. When the replacement of prime ministers is treated as child's play, how can Taiwan's competitiveness not plummet year after year, until it is trailing the mainland's? When everyone pays attention only to power struggles between Chen and Hsieh, who really cares about such matters?

Original Chinese below:










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