China Times Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
August 5, 2016
Executive Summary: Public support is essential for the President's reforms. President Tsai's poll numbers have plummeted during the first one hundred days since her inauguration. Tsai Ing-wen is losing the bargaining chips she needs for reform. Her honeymoon period is rapidly coming to an end. President Tsai has declared a multi-front war. The people are in distress. Tsai Ing-wen would be well advised to return to the two basic tenets of national governance: promote economic prosperity and ensure cross-Strait peace.
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Less than a month from now, President Tsai Ing-wen will have been in office for one hundred days. Former US presidential advisor David Gergen noted that the greater part of a national leader's legacy is established during his or her first one hundred days in office, the “honeymoon period”. The history of modern democracies shows that a national leader's power and prestige do not increase over time. Rather they are at their highest when the leader first takes office. From then on it experiences a steady decline. If the leader achieves litle or nothing during his or her first one hundred days in office, reversing the situation during a later term is impossible. President Tsai made too many promises of reform during her election campaign. Knowing this, she really should be worried.
Recently two pro-green polls set off alarm bells for Tsai Ing-wen. The first poll showed Tsai Ing-wen's approval ratings still topping 50%, but plummeting 14%. The second poll showed her approval ratings slipping slightly, but her disapproval ratings rocketing nearly 24%, from 12.5% two weeks after her inauguration to 36% by the end of July. Why has a newly elected president, swept into office with such great fanfare, fallen so low in two short months? News reports suggest President Tsai over-promised on reform during her election campaign, only to declare five new wars upon taking office. Each of these wars is fraught with peril. The outcome is uncertain, but affect people's perceptions, value systems, and vital interests. Everyone has been swept onto the battlefield. Social unrest is guaranteed.
The first war that Tsai has declared, is with the Mainland. The newly victorious Tsai Ing-wen was initially cautious about cross-Strait relations. Nevertheless upon taking office, she worsened the impasse over the 1992 Consensus. She even told the US media that she rejected the Mainland's deadline for acceptance of the 1992 Consensus. She treated sovereignty over Taiping Island in the same negligent, ambivalent manner as always. When a fire killed an entire tour bus filled with Mainland tourists, she not only refused to mourn the victims, she even bungled the eulogy, further enraging the Mainland public. Worse still, Academia Historica set back academic neutrality by limiting access to scholars from the Mainland, Hong Kong, and Macao. Its policy and personnel appointments reflect glaringly obvious cultural Taiwan independence and de-Sinicization tendencies. These have further exacerbated cross-Strait tensions, and undermined Taiwan's tourism industry, agriculture, and fishing industry. Countless individuals have been caught in its wake.
The second war that Tsai has declared, is against pensioners. Pension reform is necessary. But its implementation has been crude, chaotic, and lacking in credibility. The DPP has habitually demonized military personnel, civil servants, and public school teachers. Winning their trust was always going to be difficult. Yet the first thing the Tsai regime did upon taking office was to appoint long-time critics of the pension system. Groups representing military personnel, civil servants, and public school teachers, refer to these unqualified and unprofessional appointees as the "Queen's Commissioners". Pension reform has gone awry from the very outset. Reaching any kind of understanding on intractable issues will be difficult. Military personnel, civil servants, and public school teachers have long been the most important force for stability on Taiwan. Pension reform that is crude, that demonizes pensioners, is forcing them to take to the streets on September 3. The new government's most positive, stabilizing force, has become Taiwan's most destabilizing force. How can Taiwan possibly know peace?
The third war that Tsai has declared, is against the KMT. Tsai has initiated a political pogrom. The KMT was routed in 2016. But half the voters still prefers the blue camp. They merely failed to vote. Over the years Taiwan has remained mired in blue vs. green political bickering. People are disgusted with the endless political conflict. Yet upon taking office, Tsai not only refused reconciliation, she did the opposite. She used the banners of "improper party assets" and "transitional justice" as pretexts to dismember the KMT. She has made her vendetta against the KMT the highest priority for her government, provoking unrest among blue camp supporters.
The fourth and fifth wars that Tsai Ing-wen has declared, are public relations wars. Tsai has apologized to Aborigines and established an "Aboriginal History and Transitional Justice Committee", and a “Judicial Reform Committee” at the presidential office. These two reform projects are arduous. If Tsai Ing-wen has the courage to take them on, more power to her. But Aboriginal history, identity, and land ownership issues, and Tsai's promised "special relationship with Aborigines" remains empty talk. Aboriginal expectations have been raised. Future agitation and conflict are guaranteed.
The green camp has not even begun judicial reform. Yet Tsai's personnel appointments for President and Vice President of the Judicial Yuan have already provoked a firestorm. The people are filled with doubts about the justice system. The criminal justice system is a highly specialized realm. The justice system is far removed from the daily lives of ordinary people. Yet the virtues or vices of the justice system will determine the fate of criminal justice and social order. Judicial reform, once begun, leads to uncertainty and conflict. But it will also have a far-reaching impact on the future of the country.
Public support is essential for the President's reforms. President Tsai's poll numbers have plummeted during the first one hundred days since her inauguration. Tsai Ing-wen is losing the bargaining chips she needs for reform. Her honeymoon period is rapidly coming to an end. President Tsai has declared a multi-front war. The people are in distress. Tsai Ing-wen would be well advised to return to the two basic tenets of national governance: promote economic prosperity and ensure cross-Strait peace.