It is not unusual for democratic nations to witness Cabinet reshuffles between one general election and the next as an administration deals with political changes and economic challenges, but the frequency of such reshuffles in Taiwan has increased since 2000.
Although policymakers each time claimed that the reshuffle was in response to voter expectations, the reshuffles have been more about political tactics and party management.
Since 2000, each premier has stayed in office for a little more than one year on average, as the nation’s leaders have tended to view Cabinet reshuffles as a way to stem deep declines in their approval ratings.
Unfortunately, the reshuffles tend to do more harm than good, as they often result in political instability and policy flip-flops.
It is too early to say whether this judgement applies to the recent Cabinet reshuffle in President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) administration, considering that Tsai is only entering her second year of presidency.
However, it is worth watching newly appointed Premier William Lai (賴清德), and especially his interaction with Tsai, given that he faces several demanding issues.
On Friday, Lai was sworn in as head of the Executive Yuan. The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government’s fresh reshuffle also saw some new appointees take office later that day, including Financial Supervisory Commission Chairman Wellington Koo (顧立雄) and National Development Council Minister Chen Mei-ling (陳美伶).
When he was sworn in, Lai said his main responsibility is to build the nation, serve the public interest and grow the economy, while eliminating obstacles for domestic investment.
Lai is a proven administrator who showed during his seven-year stint as Tainan mayor what can be done to reduce bureaucratic inefficiency and develop timely policies in the face of challenges. He will want both remaining and new ministers to bring vitality and devotion to the civil service, while his administrative style grants zero tolerance for passing the buck.
If Lai is serious about putting forward effective measures to stimulate the economy, he should consider the reshuffle a new start for the Executive Yuan, rebooting it with effective administrative functioning and the ability to keep the policy agenda on track.
The policymaking process and policies of each ministry will need a thorough review, which will mean considering each development project and reform scheme with more seriousness and taking more responsibility than before.
In this respect, the appointment of Koo, former chairman of the Ill-gotten Party Assets Settlement Committee, as the nation’s new financial regulator came as a surprise to many, as his background is mainly legal rather than financial. Koo’s considerable experience as a lawyer reflects the new Cabinet’s plan to strengthen financial supervision and ensure regulatory compliance in the financial sector. It seems that he will be a better enforcer of regulations due to less involvement, and therefore fewer conflicts of interest, in this sector.
However, Koo will need competent, experienced deputies at the Financial Supervisory Commission to assist him in dealing with anticipated challenges.
Because he is deeply disliked among Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators after his bitter interactions this past year with the KMT over its assets, he will need the full support of the Cabinet, the DPP and voters as he pushes for policies beyond the commission’s traditional supervisory and regulatory roles. Nevertheless, striking a balance between financial supervision and financial innovation will remain his major challenge.
It will take some time to see if the new Cabinet is competent and whether it is capable of grasping the current mood of Taiwanese.
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