Next month’s nine-in-one election results are anyone’s guess, but political circles in Taipei are already embroiled in a battle over the premiership.
The cause of this battle is the ongoing food security issues, which have caused great public alarm.
Although the government has said it will handle the situation, it is yet to show how. The tainted cooking oil scandal is spreading like a disease, from Ting Hsin International Group (頂新集團) to Namchow Group (南僑集團), as problems have been found with lard, tallow and vegetable oil products.
From the processing plants, the affected products have reached bakeries, buffet restaurants and roadside stalls, affecting almost everyone. Food safety has become a universal concern, but the government seems incapable of solving the problem and instead repeatedly implies that there are solutions in the pipeline.
Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) said in a legislative interpellation session two weeks ago that no problems had been found with Ting Hsin cooking oils and that they were fit for human consumption. Less than two weeks later, it was revealed that Ting Hsin mixed oil for industrial use and animal feed with cooking oil, throwing the nation into a state of fright. It would not be asking too much for the premier step down to take responsibility.
A recent survey released by Taiwan Indicator Survey Research showed that Jiang has a 66 percent disapproval rating for his performance as premier, while a mere 15.6 percent said he is doing a good job. This is a record disapproval rating, worse than those of former premiers Liu Chao-shiuan (劉兆玄), at 65 percent, and Sean Chen (陳沖), at 59 percent.
The result is causing problems for the Cabinet’s policy implementation, and Jiang’s worst-case scenario would see him become targeted by opposition attacks and step down to take responsibility for a poor election-season performance.
It is not only the opposition that is putting pressure on Jiang to step down: Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) lawmakers are also outspoken on the issue, with Legislator Tsai Chin-lung (蔡錦隆) saying food safety is a fundamental public demand and “if this is not handled properly, the premier must step down.”
KMT Legislator Lu Chia-chen (盧嘉辰) has said that “if there are any more slip-ups, stepping down is the only choice.”
These statements were followed by allegations that Namchow added industrial oil to its cooking oil.
Although President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) is vigorously backing Jiang and — at a ceremony handing over the reins of the party’s legislative caucus to new officials on Wednesday — called on KMT legislators to support the Cabinet, public discontent is soaring, forcing KMT lawmakers to prioritize public opinion.
Furthermore, the run-up to the elections is a sensitive time, and as new food-security scandals are revealed, KMT candidates sense the public discontent and feel that a Cabinet reshuffle cannot wait until after the elections, because if it is not done now, they might go down with a sinking ship.
This is why KMT Taipei mayoral hopeful Sean Lien (連勝文) said that if he were the premier, he would step down, while his campaign director Alex Tsai (蔡正元) made a direct call for Jiang to step down.
There are also whispers in Taipei political circles that if Jiang steps down, Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌), a food sanitation specialist, would take over.
The battle within the KMT over the premier’s seat has begun.
Given the situation, it would not be excessive if Jiang stepped down. In fact, the sooner he does, the better. If the move were to be postponed until after next month’s elections, public worries would grow and the KMT would have to pay an even greater price.
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