Wed, Sep 21, 2016 - Page 8 News List

Political prowess required for change

By Ku Chung-hwa 顧忠華

Two typhoons struck the nation during the four-day Mid-Autumn Festival holiday and the government focused all its attention on addressing the situation. President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and Premier Lin Chuan (林全) immediately visited the disaster area to inspect the damage, doing all they could to show that they were one with the public and were dealing with the situation. Perhaps that was helpful to improving their flagging approval ratings.

However, approval ratings are determined not only by the ability to govern, but also to a great extent by how individual leaders comport themselves. In particular, Tsai’s administration has been criticized as being too indecisive and restrained by administrative restrictions, and this has caused voters to doubt whether the government is able to deliver on its promises of reform during the election campaign.

What special characteristics and capabilities should a government leader display to be able to follow through on reform? Some still remember the big signs reading: “Politics is a calling” when Tsai’s overseas academic support groups arranged election rallies during the presidential campaign. This is a goal that Tsai and Lin should strive to live up to.

What does “political calling” mean? The phrase was coined by German sociologist Max Weber and it implies a professional dedication that is radically different from simply working hard to be able to feed oneself: It means seeing one’s political work as a vocation, as having been called upon to carry out a mission. That is, politicians must do their utmost to live up to what it means to be a politician.

Weber stressed that for leaders to treat politics as a calling, they must maintain three human qualities: passion, responsibility and judgement, which are the qualities that determine a leader’s thoughts and actions that are required for charismatic leadership to satisfy people’s expectations.

Indeed, passion will spread to the public and responsibility will result in credibility, while judgement is the ability to solve complex crises and a crucial part of political sensitivity.

Although Tsai and Lin have focused on professionalism and expertise, they are not adept at political performances. Taiwanese harbor high political hopes following the latest transition of power and if they do not see a new style of leadership, it will not only be impossible to mobilize the strong public support that is needed to initiate reform, it will also cause supporters to start worrying that the government’s major policies will come to naught, one after another.

As Tsai and Lin respond to public concerns, they should perhaps adjust their approach and find a milder, gentler way to communicate. Doing so could make the public feel that the governing team is intent on pushing through reform and that it is capable of doing so, which, together with the attitude that politics is a calling, a vocation, could help rebuild public trust in the government.

The success or failure of the Tsai administration’s great reform project will depend on the president and the premier’s ability to display charm and determination on the political stage.

Ku Chung-hwa is an executive director of Citizen’s Congress Watch.

Translated by Perry Svensson

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