Just as the former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) administration’s incompetence and constant fawning over China prompted waves of mass protests during former president Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) eight years in office, the public’s collective wish for a better future was what propelled the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to power in January.
It was not the DPP’s merits alone that saw Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) elected as president, but also public indignation over the KMT’s China-leaning policies, ill-conceived proposals, and poor administration and execution. Voters were hoping that a change in government would improve the nation, with a shift in attitude toward cross-strait affairs and policies that better address concerns over social justice and national competitiveness.
Yet, in the nearly three months of her presidency, the Tsai administration’s performance has been disappointing, if not far from public expectations.
Yes, the Legislative Yuan, in which the DPP holds a majority, has accomplished the decade-long quest of passing the Act Governing the Handling of Ill-gotten Properties by Political Parties and Their Affiliate Organizations (政黨及其附隨組織不當取得財產處理條例), a laudable first step toward addressing transitional justice. How the executive branch implements the act remains to be seen, however.
Putting that aside, a greater concern has been the manner in which Tsai is making personnel appointments.
First was her nomination of Public Functionary Disciplinary Sanction Commission Chief Commissioner Hsieh Wen-ting (謝文定) and Judicial Yuan Secretary-General Lin Chin-fang (林錦芳) as Judicial Yuan president and vice president respectively. Although Hsieh and Lin on Sunday withdrew their nominations with Tsai’s consent, that Tsai even thought of naming people with such a controversial past — with one purportedly linked to human rights violations during the KMT’s authoritarian rule — is incomprehensible.
Tsai’s judgement on personnel appointments has not only raised doubts over her claims to defend democratic values, but also sparked indignation among people who had pinned their hopes on her administration redressing miscarriages of justice during the White Terror era.
The withdrawal of the nomination, which was met with harsh public criticism and a lukewarm reception even among DPP lawmakers, demonstrated just how big the gap is between the Tsai administration and public expectations.
Another example that calls into question Tsai’s judgement is the appointment of former Council for Economic Planning and Development chairman Chen Tain-jy (陳添枝) as minister of the National Development Council.
Chen was best known for his ardent push for the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) with China during Ma’s presidency. His appointment to a position that handles the nation’s development and economic competitiveness policies, in addition to Tsai’s recruitment of other former KMT, pro-ECFA government officials into the new government’s “new southbound policy” program, has many questioning Tsai’s beliefs and judgement, and wondering whether she has had a change of heart since coming to power.
A poll released by Taiwan Indicators Survey Research yesterday showed that Tsai’s approval rating has dipped below 50 percent, while her disapproval rating has risen from 32.3 percent last month to 39.8 percent.
While some might argue that it is natural for a leader to suffer a dip in support after the so-called “honeymoon” period, Tsai should be reminded that “public opinion is like flowing water” — if she does not keep the water flowing, her detachment from mainstream public opinion will see her pounded by a wave of public dissatisfaction just as powerful as the one that swept her into office in the first place.
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