Tsai Ying-wen's Autocratic Overreach
United Daily News Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
November 30, 2016
Executive Summary: No matter how many grand plans one might have for the nation, Tsai Ing-wen's blueprint for reform has already provoked violence and chaos. The public cannot swallow it. In fact, even the Executive Yuan and the Legislative Yuan have no idea where they are going. At this point, President Tsai must shift gears and change direction. She must re-prioritize her decision-making. More importantly, she must ensure that her administration understands her policy path. They cannot afford to look up to the sky and not pay attention to their feet on the ground.
Full Text Below:
Recently the streets of Taipei have overflowed with protesters. The number of protesters continues to rise. Labor organizations have protested the longer work week. Gay rights activists have protested the lack of same-sex marriages. Consumers have protested the importation of food products from Japan's nuclear disaster area. More recently, TransAsia Airways workers have protested the Civil Aeronautics Administration, and KMT party workers have protested CIPAS nationalization of KMT assets. This does not even include military personnel, civil servants, and public school teachers, who have called a temporary truce. President Tsai Ing-wen remains committed to her reformist crusade. She assumes it is the quickest way to a new Taiwan. But with brush fires breaking out everywhere, and protests erupting all around, she is seriously testing the public's patience.
There is no doubt that this rash of protests on Taiwan is the result of political deadlock. The reason for the deadlock is Tsai's autocratic reforms, combined with her incompetent governance. If Tsai were a charismatic leader, and her administration comprised of experienced political veterans, she might get away with her “reform of the week” crusade. But Tsai Ing-wen's support comes from an array of finger-pointing Taiwan independence elders. Her administration is staffed by panicked and confused cabinet members. Under the circumstances how can the Tsai government possibly impose her half-baked policies with a heavy hand? How can she possibly expect the public to swallow them?
One month after taking office, Tsai Ing-wen's approval rating was 60%. Six months after taking office, her approval rating was down to 30%. We have no idea how Tsai Ing-wen is interpreting this public disappointment. Is she kidding herself when she says "Reforms invariably encounter setbacks"? Is she flattering herself when she says "Reactionary forces are lashing back"? Either way, the moment President Tsai falls back on such psychological defense mechanisms, she is likely to lose sight of her original goal. All of Tsai Ing-wen's pledges can be summed up in her May 20 inaugural address, when she said "What people are looking for is a solution to their problems". But what has the government actually done over the past six months to help people solve their problems? Has it merely created more problems?
Tsai's reforms have provoked public protests for three reasons. First, her reforms were not properly planned. She failed to consider the pros and cons of her reforms. She presented no clear blueprint, therefore people remained skeptical. Second, the Tsai government refused to listen to the views of different segments of society. She resisted open dialogue with the public. Third, during decision-making, she used all manner unscrupulous means to pander to the DPP at the expense of democracy and the rule of law.
In fact, the recent protests are not necessarily in opposition to Tsai government reforms per se. They are in opposition to reforms whose goals are none too clear, or whose means are far too autocratic. They are in opposition to partisan vendettas disguised as reform, with the government trampling over democracy and the rule of law. Tsai Ing-wen's flowery rhetoric, arrant overreach, and forked tongue, have all been fatal to her image.
During the recent controversy over same-sex marriage, the Tsai Ing-wen government never consulted with the public. It never even asked the cabinet or the DPP legislative caucus for a draft version. Instead, it allowed Yu Mei-jen to present a common law draft version, to be rammed through the legislature. Naturally this caused public panic. Same-sex marriage is an issue unrelated to blue vs. green ideology. Taiwan society is becoming more open. It has gradually become one of the most open in Asia. The younger generation is far friendlier toward gays than previous generations. If the government is well prepared and communicates effectively, Taiwan can take a giant step forward in same-sex marriage compared to its neighbors. But Yu Mei-jen ignored the need for public consultation. She took the lead in ramming the bill through the legislature. Meanwhile, Tsai Ying-wen feined neutrality. The result was proponents and opponents at dagger points, taking to the streets and screaming at each other. This was a negative development no one wanted to see.
As such, however the chips fall, serious disagreements have divided society and the generations. Such an outcome is the inevitable consequence of poor governance. Consider internal dissent on this issue just within the DPP itself. Legislators without portfolio are out in front leading the charge. Legislators who represent regional constituents on the other hand, are in the rear, dragging their feet. Divisions among the public run deep. How can Tsai Ing-wen pretend not to see?
No matter how many grand plans one might have for the nation, Tsai Ing-wen's blueprint for reform has already provoked violence and chaos. The public cannot swallow it. In fact, even the Executive Yuan and the Legislative Yuan have no idea where they are going. At this point, President Tsai must shift gears and change direction. She must re-prioritize her decision-making. More importantly, she must ensure that her administration understands her policy path. They cannot afford to look up to the sky and not pay attention to their feet on the ground.