Rising star appointed Taiwan's next premier

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen with outgoing Premier Lin Chuan and newly-appointed Premier William Lai Ching-te (far right) at the Presidential Palace in Taipei yesterday. Mr Lai has been touted as a potential successor to Ms Tsai.
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen with outgoing Premier Lin Chuan and newly-appointed Premier William Lai Ching-te (far right) at the Presidential Palace in Taipei yesterday. Mr Lai has been touted as a potential successor to Ms Tsai.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Pro-independence mayor, popular with voters, vows to reform and transform island

A rising star who has been touted as a potential successor to President Tsai Ing-wen yesterday pledged to reform and transform the island shortly after he was named as Taiwan's next premier.

Tainan city mayor William Lai Ching-te, officially introduced by Ms Tsai at a news conference, will now have to assemble a new team to shore up the the President's sagging popularity and her independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) ahead of local elections next year.

"I'll firmly shoulder this responsibility... redouble our efforts to reform and transform, for the benefit of the people of Taiwan," Mr Lai, 57, told the packed news conference at the Presidential Office.

Mr Lai, who is from the DPP, replaces incumbent Premier Lin Chuan, who formally resigned on Sunday after just 15 months in office and facing dismal approval ratings of below 30 per cent.

Mr Lin and his Cabinet will step down en masse tomorrow. His successor will take over on Friday.

A doctor-turned-politician, Mr Lai was a lawmaker for four consecutive terms and a whip for the DPP caucus before becoming the mayor of the DPP's southern stronghold of Tainan in 2010.

The pro-independence advocate is favoured in many party-affiliated surveys to be a strong potential contender for the 2020 presidential election.

WORKING FOR TAIWANESE

I'll firmly shoulder this responsibility... redouble our efforts to reform and transform, for the benefit of the people of Taiwan.

MR WILLIAM LAI CHING-TE, on assembling a new Cabinet.

This is the first government shake-up since Ms Tsai took office in May last year.

Having Mr Lai in charge of the Cabinet will allow her to put in place a new team of ministers ahead of the mayoral and city councillor elections in which her DPP aims to retain, if not win, more seats in six cities.

Ms Tsai heaped praise on Mr Lai yesterday, saying that he was in tune with public opinion and the "most suitable person" to carry on with the government's aim to accelerate the transformation of the economy and society.

Under the outgoing Premier, the government pushed through a slew of reforms, including a new labour Bill regulating days off, a national pension scheme and an ambitious infrastructure plan.

But Mr Lin was widely criticised for a series of blunders and missteps in implementing the policies. For instance, the revised labour law raised business costs and left workers with fewer holidays, stoking public anger.

Controversial pension reforms, to be implemented next year, also angered many retired civil servants, teachers and military personnel who would end up with a smaller monthly payout.

A widespread power blackout last month, affecting more than six million households and businesses, exacerbated the government's woes.

However, Ms Tsai paid tribute to Mr Lin yesterday, saying she was "very reluctant to let him go" and that he had been selfless and had "withstood a lot of hardships".

Analysts said Mr Lai's appointment is unlikely to have any major impact on cross-strait relations because they come under the purview of the President.

National Dong-hwa University political analyst Shih Cheng-feng said Mr Lai will be crucial in boosting support for the DPP and Ms Tsai.

He is also expected to further tweak the labour Bill and allocate funds to build or upgrade infrastructure in the cities and counties islandwide.

"He enjoys the confidence and support of not only the party faithful but also the wider electorate because he has the political know- how to sway public support."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 06, 2017, with the headline 'Rising star appointed Taiwan's next premier'. Print Edition | Subscribe