Taiwan's Tsai undeterred by sliding popularity

LIAO DA-CHI, National Sun Yat-sen University political scientist, on President Tsai Ing-wen (above).
LIAO DA-CHI, National Sun Yat-sen University political scientist, on President Tsai Ing-wen (above).

She defends performance of her team amid controversies

Faced with sliding approval ratings and accusations of policy flip-flops, Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen has defended the performance of her administration in its first 100 days.

There were many unexpected crises, she said. Some were accidents, while others resulted from systemic flaws within the government.

She expressed confidence that her team will be able to overcome the challenges ahead.

Ms Tsai, who marked her first 100 days in office yesterday, was speaking at a ceremony held by the Lee Teng-hui Foundation.

But hours later, her party was dealt its first electoral setback in the Hualien mayoral race.

STRETCHING HERSELF THIN

She is doing everything at the same time, making it difficult for her to focus on doing one thing well.

LIAO DA-CHI, National Sun Yat-sen University political scientist, on President Tsai Ing-wen.

The opposition Kuomintang reclaimed the seat in the eastern city when its candidate Wei Chia-hsien beat the Democratic Progressive Party's (DPP) Chang Mei-hui by garnering 54 per cent of valid votes.

The mayoral race was seen as the first test of popularity for Ms Tsai, who led her independence-leaning party to victory in the presidential and legislative elections in January.

Since taking office on May 20, she has had to deal with a series of blunders and controversies, ranging from protests over the government's about-turn on a new five- day work week to the military's misfiring of an anti-ship missile that killed a fishing boat captain.

Ms Tsai has defended her policy shifts, saying that they were necessary to allow Taiwan "to achieve a sense of balance".

"It is like walking a tightrope, when similar adjustments are needed to achieve a balance," she said in a televised interview marking her first 100 days in office.

Professor William Sharp, a visiting scholar at Taiwan's top think- tank Academia Sinica, said Ms Tsai was prudent in trying to bridge the political divide.

Pointing to well-known KMT figures in her Cabinet, Prof Sharp said: "It reflects the 'turquoisation' (in her government), the bringing together of the blue and green camps."

 

Ms Tsai is facing backlash from retired military personnel, teachers and civil servants, whose generous pensions are being reviewed. They are likely to take their frustrations to the street on Saturday.

Several public opinion polls released yesterday showed that Ms Tsai's approval ratings have fallen below 50 per cent compared with 57 per cent when she first took office.

Some observers say she is stretching herself thin by trying to do too many things at the same time.

As National Sun Yat-sen University political scientist Liao Da-chi put it: "She is doing everything at the same time, making it difficult for her to focus on doing one thing well."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 28, 2016, with the headline 'Tsai undeterred by sliding popularity'. Print Edition | Subscribe