Lift the Curse of Short-Lived Cabinets: Premier Jiang Understands
China Times editorial
Taipei, Taiwan, ROC
February 20, 2013
Summary: The very first day Premier Jiang Yi-huah took office, he admonished
cabinet members, "Ask not how long your term of office will be. Ask how
many meaningful things you can accomplish on behalf of your country
during that time." His words were inspirational. But his cabinet members
may not have felt much inspiration in their hearts. After all, cabinets
have been reshuffled so frequently over the years. .
Full Text below:
The very first day Premier Jiang Yi-huah took office, he admonished cabinet members, "Ask not how long your term of office will be. Ask how many meaningful things you can accomplish on behalf of your country during that time." His words were inspirational. But his cabinet members may not have felt much inspiration in their hearts. After all, cabinets have been reshuffled so frequently over the years. The premiers' terms may not have become shorter. But they have most assuredly not become longer. Cabinet members are expected to resign along with the premier. So how long can they expect to be around? This is not something cabinet members can calculate on their own. They must defer to the president and the premier above, and to the public below.
Sad to say, this harsh reality is undeniable. The ROC may be a mature democracy. But it derives its ethics from tradition, and its essence from the West. As a result, it has concocted a so-called dual leadership system. It has undergone ruling party changes. The minority Democratic Progressive Party government refused to comply with the principle of majority rule. This made it impossible to establish a parliamentary system. When the majority Kuomintang returned to power, it could not ensure cooperation between the KMT leadership and the ruling KMT government. Internal rivalry within the ruling KMT led repeated cabinet reshuffles. Seventeen years after the president was first popularly elected, the sole exception was Premier Vincent Siew, who served a relatively long four year term under Lee Teng-hui. Under Chen Shui-bian and Ma Ying-jeou, the average term for the premier was one year two months to one year four months. This is not so different from Japan, with its rampant political turmoil.
During the Two Chiangs Era, premiers served four to six years. Leave aside the authoritarian era for the moment. The early part of Lee Teng-hui's presidency was a period of political turmoil. The KMT was wracked by intense internal conflict. Li Huan served as premier for only one year. This was his fate. After direct presidential elections were implemented, Vincent Siew served a solid four-year term. During his term however, Lee Teng-hui leveled veiled criticisms. He complained that Siew was indecisive in dealing with the Southeast Asian financial crisis, and that Siew often invited fiscal policy expert Chen Po-chih and others to his official residence to lay out the groundwork on his behalf. Lee invoked these criticisms against his own premier. But Chen Po-chih served as Chairman of the CEPD during the Chen Shui-bian administration. His record was mediocre. The Chen administration went through six premiers in eight years. Leave aside Tang Fei's misfortune for the moment. What about the rest? What about Yu Shyi-kun, Chang Chun-hsiung, Frank Hsieh and Su Tseng-chang? They were obviously appointed, one after another, merely to accomodate certain political realities. Ma Ying-jeou probably never imagined that terms for premiers under his adminstration would be as short as they were under the Chen administration. He intended to give Liu Chao-hsuan at least two years to show results. But Liu became collateral damage when the Lehman Brothers scandal precipitated a global financial crisis. Miraculously Liu survived, only to fall victim to Typhoon Morakot. Liu survived two years, to be replaced by political veteran Wu Den-yih. Despite Wu's re-election, political reality prevailed. He could no longer stay on as premier. He was determined to stay on, but in the end could not defy public sentiment. This year Sean Chen had a hard time. But Ma Ying-jeou had an even harder time. Jiang Yi-huah has stepped up to the plate. As Ma Ying-jeou sees it, no matter what, he must survive next year's Six Municipalities Elections. But will events unfold as he hopes? Ma Ying-jeou is afraid to say. Judging by Premier Jiang's first address in the legislature, he is as well.
Normally nations with parliamentary systems are constrained by the number of seats held by each political party. Cabinet reshuffling is constrained by political reality. This is inevitable. For example, France's Third Republic (1875-1940) underwent 103 cabinet reshuffles in 65 years. The average cabinet lasted less than eight months. The Fourth Republic (1946-1958) underwent 26 cabinet reshuffles in 12 years. The average cabinet lasted less than six months. These are all abnormal phenomenon. But on Taiwan, when the minority Chen administration was in power, the majority KMT dared not demand a no confidence vote. To mollify dissenters inside his own party, Chen kept changing premiers. By contrast, when the majority Ma administration was in power, all the minority party needed to do, was to open its mouth and denounce the Ma administration. This would panic the administration and make it replace premiers. Is this normal? This can be characterized as political reality, but it is hardly conducive to the national progress.
Premier Jiang addressed the legislature for the first time. He asked cabinet members to review their own proposals, and to present them to the public in one month. The seated cabinet members remained expressionless or pretended nothing was wrong. Did Premier Jiang really issue a military command? Or must President Ma or Chairman Ma issue such a command? Just whose commands will be obeyed? Unless Ma and Jiang are on the same page, and the party and the government are as well, chaos will prevail. Even Jiang Yi-huah, a PhD. in political science, will have trouble coping.
Now consider the Mainland's party leaders, government leaders, and military leaders. They serve at least ten years before being replaced. What can a person accomplish in ten years? Even rank novices can become old hands in ten years. Of course, the Mainland political system is totally different. The two systems cannot be compared. But from a purely managerial perspective, what mature and stable corporation changes CEOs every year? Any large corporation that passes the torch is likely to succumb to price shocks. Why else would TSMC Chairman Morris Chang return after retiring, other than to ensure effective management?
The Jiang Cabinet has stepped up to the plate. The mess left behind by Jiang's predecessors has yet to be cleaned up. Future challenges loom largeer than previously imagined. . No one wants to talk about long-term planning. The lifespan for Chen administration and Ma administration premiers has been barely over a year. Talk of plans spanning more than two years are the butt of jokes. The job is difficult, but must be done. The plans before the administration may be short-term or long-term. But all it can do is treat the symptoms. It can talk about addressing the root of the problem. But those charged with addressing the symptoms must show immediate results. Otherwise sound programs that are not yet complete will be denounced and dismissed. They will no longer enjoy political support. President Ma has put the economy first. Put bluntly, the cabinet must first provide the public with a cure that can be felt. The cure must take effect within the span of a legislative session. Otherwise, it will make no difference how good the composition of the cabinet is.