Fri, Sep 01, 2017 - Page 8 News List

Tsai Ing-wen and transformation

By Jerome Keating

One of the most important considerations facing the president of any nation is what legacy they wish to leave. Will they simply be seen as a caretaker who avoided disasters? Or will they go down in history as having been transformative?

President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) has weathered the first year of her presidency with little problem. She has taken the reins of the nation and now knows firsthand the scope of the position. She also has the benefit of knowing Taiwan’s past three presidents well.

It is time, as the walrus in Lewis Carroll’s poem says to the carpenter, to talk of “other things.” It is time to go beyond ceiling wax, cabbages and kings. It is time to talk of transformational leadership, the type that creates a positive legacy.

Richard Neustadt, a US political scientist who focused on the role of presidents and their legacies in a democracy, considered the “power to persuade” as a chief sign of one’s leadership and a necessary ingredient of transformation.

However, transformational leadership demands more. Such a leader must identify necessary changes appropriate to the times, back them with the required vision to guide them, and win the commitment of a majority of legislators and people to bring it all to fruition.

Tsai is the fourth president freely elected in Taiwan, making it easy for her and Taiwanese to look back and rank her predecessors.

In this ranking, all can see that former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) stands out as most transformational: He made Taiwan the democracy that it is.

Showing leadership and vision, Lee identified the need to remake the nation into a democracy.

He forced the retirement of the “iron rice bowl” members of the Legislative Yuan, who shamefacedly had held their lucrative positions since the 1947 elections in China. From 1992 on, he required all legislators to be elected.

In 1996, Lee further orchestrated that the president would be elected by the people, even though he could probably have gotten away with less.

Of course, Lee was backed by a Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) that held a majority of seats in the legislature, but it is foolish to think that they were all of one mind. There were many opposing voices in the KMT and many who still preferred the privileges of the one-party state.

Lee overcame the opposition, and when he finished his presidency he insisted that relations with China be done on a state-to-state basis.

The following eight years of Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) show a man under high expectations, but facing greater limitations. Chen initially came in as the first president of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP); his victory was due to a split vote in the KMT.

Thus, even though he won, Chen was saddled with having to deal with a legislature that was loaded with disgruntled KMT members and members of its spin-off People First Party (PFP).

The KMT and PFP both felt the dispossession that a democracy brings to those previously nourished in a one-party state. Even Lee ironically found himself kicked out of the KMT as a traitor.

Chen would end up in jail on corruption charges after a questionable double standard of justice at his trial, along with potentially perjured witnesses.

If there were transformational results that led to a positive legacy from him, they would be found in his insisting that Taiwan be Taiwan.

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