Tsai Ing-wen's Three Major Problems
United Daily News Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
June 20, 2016
Executive Summary: After one month in office, the challenges faced by Tsai Ing-wen are clear. She must stabilize the cabinet and ministries. She must end administration policy flip-flops. The new government's image is steadily being eroded. The public will soon lose its patience. Once that happens, any policy reform whatsoever will be difficult. The difficulties encountered by Ma Ying-jeou during his second term of office prove that.
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Since her inauguration on May 20, President Tsai Ing-wen has been in office three full months. Polls show her public approval rating at around 50%. Apparently a majority supports her leadership. But Premier Lin Chuan's approval rating is nearly 10 points lower, indicating public dissatisfaction with the new cabinet.
The gap in approval ratings for Tsai Ing-wen and Lin Chuan is intriguing for three reasons. First, the Cabinet Chief's lower approval rating may be the result of either personal faux pas or extreme policy statements. For this, Lin Chuan must bear full responsibility. It also reveals uneven quality among cabinet members. Second, the chaos within the cabinet makes Tsai Ing-wen's role as head of state even more essential. The public distinguishes between the two. It does not consider them the same. Third, the public still has high hopes for the new government. It is still willing to give the new president time to improve. Alas, no one knows when public discontent with the cabinet chief will burn through the firewall between the Office of the President and the Executive Yuan. The new government cannot afford to be careless about this.
One month after taking office, Tsai Ing-wen's status was secure. She concentrated on visiting the armed forces, and called for unity. She met with foreign dignitaries. As a finishing touch, she participated in various social activities to prove she was a “woman of the people”. Cabinet ministers were reckless. She used her status in the party and the government to mollify green camp legislators. She invited government heads into her home and communicated with them. She differed from Chen Shui-bian, a loose cannon. She also differed from Ma Ying-jeou, who stood on the front lines with a target painted on his back. This has helped her maintain her stature as president. It has also provided the new government room to retreat and flexibility in decision-making.
In any event, after one month in office, the challenges faced by Tsai Ing-wen are clear. She must stabilize the cabinet and ministries. She must end administration policy flip-flops. The new government's image is steadily being eroded. The public will soon lose its patience. Once that happens, any policy reform whatsoever will be difficult. The difficulties encountered by Ma Ying-jeou during his second term of office prove that.
In summary, Tsai Ing-wen faces three major problems, each of which require her personal attention. The first problem is the gap between electoral politics and the reality of governance. During Tsai Ing-wen's presidential campaign, she opposed certain policies out of sheer spite. She failed to consider the issues with due diligence. Now that she is in power, she finds herself out of touch with reality. During the past month, she has completely reversed herself on one policy after another. Even cabinet members charged with carrying out her imperial edicts are grumbling. Electoral politics is running head on into harsh reality. Tsai must either collide with reality head on, derail, or make a “hairpin turn”. The most obvious example is her ostensibly unshakable commitment to a nuclear free homeland. Power shortages loom. Yet her only response was to ask universities to conserve electricity, or return to old-fashioned hydropower. Are these really wise moves? Tsai Ing-wen's only solution is to default on her campaign promises and confront harsh reality.
The second problem she faces, is friction between the new government and the new ruling party. The Lin Chuan cabinet stresses its "professionalism". As such, its cabinet members lack political sensitivity. When cabinet ministers speak out, they frequently touch sensitive political nerves. This includes peripheral appointees, several of whom have angered DPP legislators. Unfortunately, if Tsai is too accommodating towards the party, the result will be an image of green camp favoritism, which would undermine her status as head of state. She would also be responsible for the misallocation of national resources. Tsai Ing-wen is both DPP chairman and ROC president. As such, she must master communications. Otherwise, if she leaves an impression of favoritism, she will find it difficult to retain public respect.
The third problem is that her cross-Strait policy, which puts the ROC at an economic and diplomatic disadvantage. The new government longs to rid itself of economic dependence on the Mainland. It longs to develop relations with Southeast Asia. Affirming the sovereignty of the Republic of China is are the right thing to do. But implementation must be prudent. One cannot suddenly deny the importance of the Mainland market, or even the benefits of cross-Strait exchanges, on the assumption that one can “pick chestnuts out of the fire”. The public expects the new government to revive Taiwan's economy. But cross-Strait relations have become increasingly tense. The first victim of such tensions will be the economy. The stalled STA talks have undermined our export competitiveness. Fewer Mainland tourists has cut into vendor profits. Once the flames of diplomatic war erupt, they will be difficult to extinguish. Tsai Ing-wen must persuade Taiwan independence elements to change course. At the very least, she must have the courage to get out from under their thumb. Otherwise the new government, which is currently walking a tightrope, cannot possibly achive prosperity for Taiwan.
Taiwan politics, which has long been divided along blue vs. green lines, remains trapped within a whirlpool. Tsai Ing-wen's honeymoon period is not quite over. But Lin Chuan's honeymoon period is about to end. Genuine vigilance is the order of the day.
2016-06-20 01:39 聯合報 聯合報社論