Taiwanese expect better times after Tsai becomes President

Honour guards rehearsing in front of the Presidential Palace in Taipei yesterday, ahead of Ms Tsai's inauguration tomorrow. The economy is likely to rank high on Ms Tsai's to-do list.
Honour guards rehearsing in front of the Presidential Palace in Taipei yesterday, ahead of Ms Tsai's inauguration tomorrow. The economy is likely to rank high on Ms Tsai's to-do list.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

The rainy weather of the past few days has not dampened stall owner Chen Tian-ding's optimism that things will improve when Ms Tsai Ing-wen is sworn in as Taiwan's first female president tomorrow.

"Life can't get any worse than this," said the 56-year-old man, who was retrenched as a factory worker two years ago. Now, he struggles to make ends meet with the NT$27,000 (S$1,130) he makes each month peddling household goods at the Ningxia night market.

"Tai wan bian tian," said the father of three, which means, "a transfer of power in Taiwan".

Ms Tsai's inauguration will be the third transfer of power involving the Kuomintang (KMT) and her Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) since direct presidential elections were introduced in 1996.

The swearing-in, which will be held in front of the red-brick Presidential Office Building, will mark the end of eight years of KMT rule under outgoing President Ma Ying-jeou, during which cross-strait ties, especially in trade and tourism, improved dramatically. But his two terms in office also fanned young Taiwanese people's frustration with the stagnant economy, and the perceived lack of an independent identity under China's shadow.

The long transition period after Ms Tsai and the DPP won the Jan 16 elections has not helped, and has put many major policies on hold.

Still, ordinary Taiwanese people like Mr Chen expect Ms Tsai and her new administration to quickly get down to work, and improve their livelihoods. Two polls released on Tuesday reflected the people's cautious optimism in her ability to focus on the economy.

A TVBS survey of 1,033 people found that 46 per cent are confident that Ms Tsai and premier-designate Lin Chuan, a former finance minister, will be able to tackle economic problems. About 35 per cent do not think so while 19 per cent do not have any opinion.

A survey by the pro-green Taiwan Thinktank found that nearly 56.6 per cent want Ms Tsai to deal with the economy first, then job creation (24.7 per cent) and education (17.9 per cent).

About 54.3 per cent also do not think Ms Tsai should publicly accept the 1992 Consensus - that both sides agree there is one China, even if they differ on what it means.

Mr Rick Li, 24, who is still looking for a job after graduating from a business course last year, said: "What kind of bargaining chips do we have, to discuss our status in the world, without a stable economy and people getting jobs?"

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 19, 2016, with the headline 'Taiwanese expect better times after Tsai becomes President'. Print Edition | Subscribe