Taiwan's Premier resigns, triggering govt reshuffle

First major shake-up under President Tsai comes ahead of next year's elections

Mr Lin Chuan said he was stepping down as he had accomplished what he set out to do.
Mr Lin Chuan said he was stepping down as he had accomplished what he set out to do.

Taiwan will have a new premier and undergo the first major government shake-up under President Tsai Ing-wen after the incumbent Premier announced yesterday that he and his team of ministers will be stepping down on Thursday.

Local media said Tainan City Mayor William Lai, 57, is most likely to take over incumbent Premier Lin Chuan, with Ms Tsai expected to reveal the new premier today.

The move will allow Ms Tsai to reshuffle her increasingly unpopular government ahead of next year's mayoral and councillor elections in which her Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) aims to retain, if not win, more seats in six cities.

Mr Lai has long been seen as a potential successor to Ms Tsai and a possible DPP presidential candidate in 2020 or 2024. Asked about it yesterday, he declined comment.

In Taiwan, it is the usual practice for Cabinet ministers handpicked by the premier to resign en masse when the premier steps down.

Mr Lin said yesterday that he offered to step down on Sunday and handed his resignation letter to Ms Tsai. The presidential office's secretary-general Joseph Wu said yesterday that Ms Tsai has "reluctantly accepted" Mr Lin's resignation and thanked him for his work.

Mr Lin, 65, said he was stepping down as he had accomplished what he set out to do when he first took office in May last year. This was to help Ms Tsai implement her reforms to lay the foundation for the government to transform Taiwan's economy and society, he said.

Mr Lin, who led the Ministry of Finance from 2002 to 2006, drafted economic proposals that helped Ms Tsai's DPP to a landslide election victory over the ruling Kuomintang in the elections last year.

Although he has no party affiliation, Mr Lin is a confidant of Ms Tsai and has long been associated with the DPP. He also worked closely with her while he helmed the party's Thinking Taiwan Foundation think-tank.

Mr Lin stressed he had "no intention to be Premier for a long time", adding he had discussed the succession plan with Ms Tsai in June. He did not elaborate on his plans, only saying he will not be taking up any positions in the public service.

Under Mr Lin, the government pushed through a slew of reforms and Bills, including a new labour Bill regulating days off, a national pension scheme and an ambitious infrastructure plan. The Cabinet, or the Executive Yuan, also kick-started efforts to revitalise Taiwan's economy like launching the Asian Silicon Valley to lure investments to grow the island's tech sector.

Taiwan's economy is showing signs of recovery, prompting the government last month to raise its growth forecast for this year and predict further gains for next year.

But Mr Lin has been widely criticised by lawmakers from both sides after a series of blunders and missteps in implementing policies. For instance, the revised labour law has raised business costs and left workers with fewer holidays, stoking public anger. Controversial pension reforms, to be implemented next year, have angered many retired civil servants, teachers and military personnel, who will have a smaller monthly pension payout.

Also, a widespread blackout last month affected more than six million households and businesses, sparking the resignation of Economic Affairs Minister Lee Chih- kung. Some lawmakers also called for Mr Lin to step down.

A recent poll found that Mr Lin's approval rating was a dismal 28.7 per cent, with nearly six in 10 respondents dissatisfied with the Executive Yuan's performance.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 05, 2017, with the headline 'Taiwan's Premier resigns, triggering govt reshuffle'. Subscribe