The results of the Dec. 3 three-in-one elections were undoubtedly a huge blow to President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Despite the fact that they were local elections, the poor handling of the negative impact of former Presidential Office deputy secretary-general Chen Che-nan's (陳哲男) misconduct, the Kaohsiung Rapid Transit Corp (KRTC) scandal and the "vultures" insider-trading case involving DPP leaders resulted in a huge loss of public trust in Chen and his party.
The fact that the DPP was not defeated by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) but by itself deserves more attention. Once the voters begin to question the DPP's integrity and hold the party's misconduct up against the principles of honesty and morality, it will be hard for the government to regain the electorate's support for the party's long-stated goal of upholding clean politics.
Most importantly, Taiwanese people placed high hopes on Chen and the DPP largely because they believed that a DPP government would do better than the corrupt KMT and would bring about reform. While the DPP continues to disappoint by emulating the bad behavior of the old KMT regime, it would naturally receive a stronger backlash from voters who have supported it in the past.
After failing to secure a clear majority in the legislative elections last year, Chen and his government have faced consistent domestic boycotts from the pan-blue camp and cross-strait ones from Beijing. It is going to take greater courage and determination -- and more importantly, a readjustment of leadership -- for Chen to reset the agenda and reframe policy goals in accordance with the political reality and the public's wishes.
A Cabinet reshuffle is a must. The most effective way to regain public trust in the government is to find a premier who can introduce discipline and a team-work ethic to the Cabinet.
Moreover, just because Chen's approval rate has reached a historical low of less than 18 percent it does not mean that he needs to make unnecessary concessions to the pan-blue camp. One of the main contributing factors to the election loss for the administration was the total lack of efficiency in implementing major reforms. Chen must utilize the remainder of his term to accelerate the reforms he touched on in his Double Ten National Day speech.
Chen must also continue to execute the reforms he promised during the campaign, including reform of the pension system, constitutional structure and taxation. Internally, Chen must perform the role of a mediator between the diverse and pluralistic social forces and forge a unified Taiwan.
Chen must also incorporate stronger leadership, determined action and the art of political bargaining into his leadership. Amid great pressure at home and abroad, Chen must be conciliatory without seeming weak, strong without appearing hostile.
Chen must also relentlessly defend Taiwan's national interests as a sovereign and independent nation. While most pressure will be placed on him to continue opening up toward China, pragmatism and caution are needed, particularly when it comes to policy adjustment.
Chen should also keep in mind that a political leader does not just need public support to win elections; he needs it to govern.
Chen should use the nation's craving for cross-party reconciliation and regional concern for cross-strait peace and invite all the leaders from different political parties and social groups to join together.