EDITORIAL NOTES

President Tsai's approval rating drops: The China Post

In its editorial, the paper urges the government to review its approach and correct its mistakes, to improve its approval rating.

One hundred days into her tenure, Tsai Ing-wen has seen her approval rating fall below 50 per cent. 

According to a poll released by Taiwan Indicators Survey Research,  Ms Tsai's rating has fallen to 45.5 per cent, while 49.2 per cent of respondents said that they trusted her, a drop from 57 percent when she took office in May.

In addition to the expected schadenfreude from the opposition (such as when an opposition Kuomintang figure labelled her a "delicious vegetable — a pun on her last name "Tsai," which means vegetable — gone rotten") even pan-green figures are sounding cautious, with Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Lo Chih-cheng calling on the government to adjust its pace of reform to match public expectations. 

Political commentator Yao Li-ming, who managed the successful campaign of Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je, said that Tsai had to pay attention to the loss of support from DPP strongholds such as the Kaohsiung-Pingtung area (where her disapproval ratings have surged to 33 percent) and the Yunlin-Chiayi-Tainan region (where her disapproval ratings have reached 39 percent).

While the drop in ratings is clear, the reasons behind the slide are less so. 

Pundits attribute the surge of public dissatisfaction to a series of controversies and scandals: from Tsai's blundered nominations of Hsieh Wen-ting and Lin Jin-fang (for president and vice president of the Judicial Yuan respectivley) and the Cabinet's flip flop on the five-day work week policies, to the cross-strait deadlock that has led to a drastic drop in mainland tourist numbers and the misfire of a supersonic anti-ship missile that killed a fisherman.

The government should review its approach and address the mistakes made over the past 100 days. 

But at the same time, it is dangerous to merely link the ups and downs in public support to specific events as it can lead to knee-jerk decision-making. 

Pundits like to focus on scandals because they are concrete political talking points; but public sentiment is subtler that the sum of events.

Excessive focus on day-to-day occurrences can result in a government that plays it safe and avoids taking risks by not doing anything out of the box. 

People react to events but their sentiments are often not generated by them. They are more likely to attach existing sentiments to events that correspond to their emotions.

The more fundamental contributors to the ratings drop are Taiwan's underlying economic challenge and Tsai's failure to meet voters' high expectations. 

Both of which are not entirely Tsai's fault as the global economic climate is not under Tsai's control and pre-election expectations are often impossibly high.

That is not to say the president is not responsible. 

Taiwan's economic pivot from China under Tsai is as immediate as her "New Southbound Policy" is unclear. 

The president, who vowed to hit the ground running, outlined the essential points of the "New Southbound Policy" only yesterday and still failed to offer any specifics. 

While the government talks of the admitted complicated long-term pivot to the south, businesses in Taiwan are facing real and immediate losses of revenue in the cross-strait cool-down. 

While voter expectations may be unreasonably high, the president has done a less than stellar job in trying to meet them. 

While the raft of reforms which Tsai promised in the run up to the election will naturally take time to implement, the president has already botched a number of policy challenges. 

The U-turns over national holiday policy drew anger from local labor groups, which regard the government as unchanged in its bias towards the business community, while the poorly arranged "apology ceremony" to Taiwan's aboriginal peoples — at which some aboriginal representative were required to wait outside the Presidential Office in the sun for Tsai to come out and apologise — was slammed by some of its recipients as arrogant. 

Tsai's hiring of a presidential chef, while legal, is counter to her message of being a champion for people struggling in Taiwan.

Tsai has addressed some of her minor hiccups with correct changes of course, such as by reaching out to aboriginal protesters by meeting them unannounced outside the President Office. 

The president, however, needs to do more to retain the faith of her supporters. 

Counter intuitively, it does not mean reacting to every negative event, but rather differentiating the message from the noise and continuing with her reforms while showing the people she cares.

The China Post is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 21 newspapers.