In the wake of President Chen Shui-bian's (
Taiwan's president has wielded power poorly. In a political structure in which great power is concentrated in the hands of one man, the premier is simply not in a position to oppose the will of the president -- and we have yet to see a Cabinet that dares ignore presidential dictates. Now, after an unremarkable six-year administrative track record, Chen is attempting to pick up the pace and make up for past failings in reform. In addition to his new economic policy, he has targeted the 18 percent preferential interest for retired civil servants, the stolen assets of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), constitutional reform and a minimum tax. This flurry of activity brings to mind the saying "waiting until you are thirsty before you dig a well."
As a result of such tardiness, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is not likely to win public support. The defeats suffered by the DPP in the 2004 legislative elections and last month's local government elections where not the result of the Cabinet's failure to carry out the presidential will, but rather because they carried it out to the letter. It is Chen who must shoulder responsibility for the government's failures. As for the scandals which have ensnared various senior government officials and which are now awaiting investigation by the judiciary, neither the Presidential Office nor the Executive Yuan is likely to escape blame.
Chen ignored calls to hold fast to former president Lee Teng-hui's (李登輝) "no haste, be patient" economic policy, and instead plunged headlong into the unrestricted opening up of commercial relations with China. It was under Chen's call for a "New Middle Way" that in 2001 the government launched the misguided policy of "active opening, effective management."
We can see now that this policy, which was intended to pander to Taiwanese businesses with interests in China and China itself, has had a pernicious effect on Taiwan. Unemployment, broadly defined, has risen to a high of 7 percent, capital has fled the country and entire industries have relocated away. This kind of damage cannot be quickly remedied.
Based on past performance, Chen's new determination to better manage cross-strait economic ties prompts mixed feelings. Chen will hopefully become a fearless and charismatic leader who is undaunted by setbacks and unafraid to admit mistakes, rather than a politician who only pursues short-term advantage and bows to pressure from financial groups and trade associations. Such short-sighted behavior is exactly what has made DPP supporters lose faith in his promises.
Chen and his party must admit that the DPP has lost the ideals it once had as a local party under Chen's leadership. As a result of Chen's weakness, the public has also begun to let down their guard toward China's "united front" strategies and military ambitions, with some even espousing an absurd desire to unify with China. What Taiwan needs is a determination to press on with reform and a more consistent implementation of policy. In this effort, Chen has no greater enemy than himself.