The Xinsheng Overpass and the Taipei International Flora Expo scandals in Taipei City are developing into a perfect political storm. On Monday, Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) announced the resignation of Deputy Mayor Lee Yong-ping (李永萍), unpaid adviser Chuang Wen-ssu (莊文思) and Chuang’s wife, Ren Shiao-chi (任孝琦), a secretary in Hau’s office, in an attempt to save his re-election bid and improve his low popularity rating.
Prosecutors have already detained city officials over the Xinsheng Overpass scandal, making it clear that the Xinsheng Overpass scandal was not a simple matter of administrative oversight, but involved irregularities that need to be handled by the judiciary.
Opposition city councilors and media outlets make daily revelations reaching further and further up in the hierarchy. If these issues cannot be dealt with in the 70 days left before the November special municipality elections, Hau will have his work cut out for him.
Although Hau keeps reiterating that Lee’s resignation has nothing to do with the Xinsheng Overpass or his re-election bid, it is easy to see that he is trying to conceal his true reasons — if Lee’s resignation is unrelated to the scandal and the election, then why is she resigning at all?
Although Hau’s is a Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government and although his father is former premier and KMT heavyweight Hau Pei-tsun (郝柏村), Hau Lung-bin left the KMT to join the New Party, of which he later became chairman, only to return to the KMT fold to run for Taipei mayor. As a result of this political wavering, many KMT members feel Hau isn’t really one of them.
The same applies to Lee, who started out in the Democratic Progressive Party, but then turned to work in the media before joining the People First Party as a legislator for a Taipei district, moving on to the KMT city government to head up the city’s cultural department and being appointed deputy mayor.
Lee is seen as the leader of the “gang of four” who advise Hau. She has many years’ experience as a guest on political talk shows thanks to her eloquence and sharp tongue, while her uncompromising manner has offended many since she joined the Taipei City Government.
As the flora expo scandal unfolded, many KMT politicians simply stood by doing nothing, while some have even worked against her. She is surrounded by enemies in the city government, and made a tearful demand at a KMT campaign meeting that KMT members be punished for their lack of support. Outsiders criticized her lashing out at party members instead of reviewing the city government’s and her own mistakes. This lost her more sympathy and support and in the end she had to step down.
The term “gang of four” sprang up as the result of the KMT’s exceptional isolation of the city government. The fall of the gang of four will lead to a rearrangement of the governing team and a new task force will be assigned to investigate the allegations surrounding the Taipei Flora Expo and save Hau’s re-election bid. The question is how much time the five members of the task force will be able to put into this effort given their other commitments, and if they can improve Hau’s falling approval ratings.
As the countdown to the November elections continues, Hau has had to remove his closest aides, something that is not recommended so close to an election. At a time when the operations of any part of the government could interfere with the elections, it is necessary for Hau to make some changes. However, if firing people does not bring change to the government administration and leadership or result in the many internal flaws that led to the Xinsheng Overpass and flora expo scandals being dealt with, changing a few people will merely replace an old target with a new one.