Tuesday, April 22, 2008

New Faces, New Thinking

New Faces, New Thinking
United Daily News Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
April 22, 2008

Incoming Premier Liu Chao-shiuan has just announced his first round of cabinet appointments. One can already guess what people are going to say about the appointments. Skeptics will say "old wine in old bottles," "nothing new," and "gerontocracy." Supporters on the other hand will say "tried and true," "the older the wine, the richer the bouquet," and "old hands know the ropes."

The first wave of cabinet appointments has been announced. Whether they were judicious choices or not, we don't know. We can only render a final verdict after the new cabinet has been in operation for a while and has accumulated a performance record.

The outstanding characteristic of the new cabinet is stability. Its defect, if any, is its lack of surprises. Let's talk about the incoming administration's cabinet appointments, beginning with Ma Ying-jeou's choice of Vincent Siew as his Vice Presidential running mate. When we look at Vincent Siew, we can't help thinking of Annette Lu. Siew's recent activities have inspired commentators to refer to him as a "quasi-president/quasi-premier." They even wonder whether he has overstepped his authority. Annette Lu, by contrast, was shackled for eight years by two words: "replacement president." This turned her into a "woman spurned," of which hell hath no fury. Let's contrast Liu Chao-shiuan with Chen Shui-bian's six Premiers. Tang Fei was appointed Premier because Chen needed a Blue camp leader for appearances. He was followed by Chang, Yu, Hsieh and Su, and Chang a second time. Again, for the sake of appearances. On the other hand, look at the SEF's Chiang Pin-kung. Contrast him with Chang Chun-hsiung and Hong Chi-chang, with Minister of Economic Affairs Yin Chi-ming, or with Chung Tsai-yi and Huang Ying-shan. Besides, the Chen Shui-bian government often appointed a figurehead as chief. The real "power behind the throne" was often his deputy. Contrast the past with the present. The incoming Ma administration's first wave of cabinet appointments are about substance and stability. The outgoing Chen regime's assignments were all about perception and novelty.

Vincent Siew is more stable than Annette Lu. Chung Tsai-yi is more novel than Yin Chi-ming. The roster of candidates for the Liu cabinet did not contain a single name that could be considered novel. Conversely not one of the Liu cabinet's appointments will disappoint the public when it comes to job performance. In other words: the Liu cabinet is not about new faces, it is all about new thinking.

When one looks at the new cabinet, one experiences a sense of deja vu. Much of the Liu cabinet served in the Lee Teng-hui administration. One could say that these people shared something in common -- they were all removed from office eight years ago. But most people would say this KMT elite was undermined by Lee Teng-hui's "black gold" corruption, by his concerted effort to destroy the ROC Constitution, and by his economically-suicidal cross-strait policy. Now, having endured eight years of hardship, the same faces have reappeared. They have been tempered by defeat, by being in the opposition. Can this new leadership adopt new thinking and lead the nation to a rebirth? That is the question the incoming Ma government must answer.

Lee Teng-hui undermined an entire generation of KMT elites. He also inflicted deep wounds on the nation. Now, eight years later, Ma Ying-jeou is giving these elites a new lease on life, a second chance to use their talent to save the nation in its hour of distress. The world will witness this historical paradox. Different leaders with different thinking, leading the same faces. Will they bring order to chaos? Turn defeat into victory?

Actually Ma Ying-jeou's past appointments did not fit neatly inside the box. They could be considered both orthodox and novel at the same time. Yeh Chin-chuan, Ou Ching-teh, Pai Hsiu-hsiung could be considered orthodox appointments. Ching Pu-tsung, Lung Ying-tai, Cheng Chun-chi could be consider novel appointments. The composition of the Liu cabinet appears to be orthodox rather than novel. Financial and economic appointments are at the core of the new administration. Yesterday two political appointees with financial backgrounds were announced. This represents orthodox thinking. Meanwhile, the appointment of Wang Ching-feng as Minister of Justice, of Wang Ju-hsuan as Chairperson for the Council of Labor Affairs, represent innovative thinking. This has become a topic of considerable discussion. The first impression the new cabinet gives is that it is stable but not entirely lacking in novelty.

It is often said that the KMT is loaded with talent. But the new cabinet leaves the impression of a discontinuity in leadership. The first wave of appointments yesterday left the Treasury, the Ministry of Defense, and the Mainland Affairs Council vacant. The Minister of Education in particular has attracted the attention of the public. The Minister of Education has yet to be announced. Work awaits, but talent is hard to find. Only when one is about to charge, does one realize one is short of experienced generals. This may be the greatest difficulty the incoming Ma/Siew administration faces.

The Ma administration faces an arduous challenge. It must bring a nation back from the dead. No one knows whether the team announced yesterday is up to the task. For the past decade, beginning with the Lee Teng-hiu regime and ending with the Chen Shui-bian regime, the machinery of government has been an instrument of political infighting and electioneering. Not only did the government cease to function, the two major parties sacrifice their Best and Brightest. We have no desire to criticize individual cabinet appointees. But we have high hopes for the new team's promise of "integrity, professionalism, and perseverance leading to equality and the rebirth of Taiwan."

The cabinet may be chosen by those in power. But whether the cabinet has governed successfully will be decided by the general public.

2008.04.22 02:42 am











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