Taiwan President Tsai's govt may see more high-level officials leaving

Ms Tsai (above).
Ms Tsai (above).

President under pressure to appoint DPP politicians, say analysts

The resignations of two high-level officials from President Tsai Ing-wen's administration just five months after she took office have sparked speculation of more departures as the President shakes up her government in the coming months.

Analysts and lawmakers say Ms Tsai, who is the leader of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), is likely to replace some current ministers or officials with people from her party.

Presidential Office secretary-general Lin Bih-jaw, 67, and National Security Bureau director-general Yang Kuo-chiang, 66, announced their resignations on Wednesday.

Their resignations come after Financial Supervisory Commission chairman Ding Kung-wha quit earlier this month over money laundering allegations involving Mega Bank.

Their departures come at a time when Ms Tsai is grappling with low approval ratings and growing frustration among voters and lawmakers, sparked by controversial labour policy proposals on public holidays and workdays, as well as unpopular pension system reforms.

In the most recent poll, only 37.6 per cent of respondents approved of her performance, compared with 57 per cent when she first took office.

Ms Tsai is also facing increasing pressure from within her own party to replace officials from the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) with those from the DPP, say analysts.

Their departures come at a time when Ms Tsai is grappling with low approval ratings and growing frustration among voters and lawmakers, sparked by controversial labour policy proposals on public holidays and workdays, as well as unpopular pension system reforms. In the most recent poll, only 37.6 per cent of respondents approved of her performance, compared with 57 per cent when she first took office.

She had appointed officials from the KMT or kept on those from the outgoing KMT administration when forming her government in May this year.

In addition, Premier Lin Chuan, who is also suffering poor approval numbers, has reportedly been under pressure to drop underperforming ministers.

They include Transport Minister Hochen Tan, Labour Minister Kuo Fong-yu and Health Minister Lin Tzou-yien. Sources have also said that Defence Minister Feng Shih-kuan and Foreign Minister David Lee, who are known to have strong connections with the KMT, may bow out as early as the end of this year.

As a result, analysts are not surprised by the departures of Professor Lin and Mr Yang, who are also closely linked to the KMT.

Mr Yang was appointed by then President Ma Ying-jeou, who stepped down this year, while Prof Lin served as the deputy secretary-general of the National Security Council under then President Lee Teng-hui, who left office in 2000.

National Sun Yat Sen University political scientist Liao Da-chi said the resignations are a sign that both men may not be used to the way Ms Tsai and the DPP govern.

"They are not part of the DPP inner circle and are not familiar with the DPP politicians. They don't wield much influence in meetings or discussions, making it a lot more difficult for them to do their job. So what is the point of staying on?" she said.

KMT legislator Johnny Chiang said: "During the election campaign, she may have pledged that she will bring together the KMT and DPP. But when philosophies are not aligned, the outcome did not turn out well."

Despite his political affiliations, Prof Lin, a long-time friend of Ms Tsai's, has one of the most important jobs in her administration, coordinating her agenda.

He was widely regarded as a stable pair of hands, given China's growing suspicion of Ms Tsai and her independence- leaning party, after they swept the Jan 16 legislative and presidential elections.

But as she settles into office, Ms Tsai now wants to work with "her own people", said Professor Ger Yeong-kuang, a political scientist at the National Taiwan University, adding that she will make more replacements before the one-year anniversary of her inauguration.

"She is also facing pressure from within her party to appoint more DPP politicians and has to appease them to strengthen her power base."

There is already talk that at-large legislator Chen Chi-mai, a pro-independence supporter who served as the Presidential Office deputy secretary-general under then President Chen Shui-bian, also from the DPP, is one of the front runners to succeed Prof Lin.

DPP legislator Lo Chih-cheng told The Straits Times that a Cabinet reshuffle is timely, as her administration is seeking to improve its performance.

"By putting in new faces who are hopefully also capable, Ms Tsai can give people more hope about reforms and boost their confidence in the government."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 22, 2016, with the headline 'Tsai govt may see more high-level officials leaving'. Print Edition | Subscribe