Taiwan cabinet reshuffle fails to wow public

TAIPEI (AFP) - Taiwan's cabinet resigned on Thursday before a reshuffle touted by President Ma Ying-jeou as adding new skills and capability to his government, but his poll ratings remained near historic lows.

Premier Sean Chen announced his resignation last week over health reasons, less than nine months into Mr Ma's second term, after his cabinet came under fire for poor handling of the economy.

He will continue in a caretaker role until a new cabinet, to be headed by current Vice Premier Jiang Yi-huah, 53, takes over on Feb 18 after the Chinese New Year holidays.

"Jiang has done a good job in finding people with great leadership abilities and capabilities in various fields," Mr Ma said earlier this week when introducing the new cabinet.

In addition to the premier and the vice premier, the minister of economic affairs and the minister of transportation will be replaced. Seven other ministers will retain their positions.

Despite the reshuffle Mr Ma's popularity remained at 14 per cent in a poll released by TVBS cable news channel this week, the same as last week before the reshuffle.

It was down from a high of 41 per cent in a survey conducted by TVBS in June 2008, one month after Mr Ma's first inauguration.

Only 16 per cent of the 951 people interviewed on Tuesday said they were satisfied with the new cabinet line-up, while 36 per cent were dissatisfied and the rest had no comment.

"The Ma government doesn't appear to be well-coordinated and I don't think reshuffling the cabinet will help boost his low approval ratings," said Mr George Tsai, an analyst at the Chinese Culture University in Taipei.

The departure of Chen, a finance veteran, came as the economy grew 1.25 per cent in 2012 from a year earlier, the slowest pace in three years, due to shrinking exports.

The earlier-than-expected cabinet reshuffle triggered speculation that Mr Chen was forced to quit, with one major broadsheet citing unspecified "friction" with the president. Mr Chen publicly denied this was the case.

Mr Chen's cabinet has frequently come under attack over the sluggish economy and other controversial policies, with the opposition repeatedly demanding his resignation.

Under Taiwan's political system the premier heads the cabinet and is appointed by the president.

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