President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) has named former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairman Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) as the new premier in an appointment aimed at bolstering support for his party ahead of the 2008 presidential election.
With his rise to the nation's No. 3 job, Su becomes a strong candidate to head the party's presidential ticket, though he must beat back prospective challenges by outgoing Premier Frank Hsieh (
Su must also win the trust of President Chen Shui-bian (
Su's charisma and popularity may allow him to enhance his standing during the remaining two years of Chen's term. But as a presidential candidate, he could well be handicapped by his lack of experience in foreign affairs. Like Chen, he speaks very little English.
A strong campaigner against the authoritarian rule of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) in the 1980s, he has also had little to say about cross-strait relations.
"Su has never taken a clear stance" on China, said Shih Cheng-feng (施正鋒), president of the Institute for National Development, a Taipei think tank.
In this he is the mirror image of KMT Chairman and Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), the likely presidential candidate for the party in 2008. Ma has staked out a clear China position, saying that an expansion of trade and transportation links with China is necessary to ensure the nation's economic future.
Apparently conscious of the gaps in his resume, Su selected a deputy with strong internationalist credentials.
DPP Legislator Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), the former head of the Mainland Affairs Council, has agreed to serve as vice premier.
Cabinet Deputy Secretary-General Liu Yu-shan (
Chen Teh-sheng (陳德昇), a researcher with the Institute for International Relations at National Chengchi University, said Su could go a long way toward rebuilding the business confidence that was rocked by Chen Shui-bian's stance on cross-strait relations.
"With his local experience, Su may be more pragmatic and more responsive to business demands," he said. "He cannot allow the economy to take a further downturn."
Su will also have to deal with the legislature, which has seized on the DPP's falling popular support to stall many of its key policy initiatives.
The president said that the Legislative Yuan had limited the administration's performance; a good example of this, he said, was its recent voting down of several components of the budget.
"Such a barbaric confrontation plotted by the opposition has prevented the government from functioning effectively and huge negative impacts are foreseeable. However, we have to think about what the consequences might be if the Executive Yuan asks the legislature to reexamine a passed government budget," he said.
At a press conference yesterday, Su expressed his appreciation to Chen, saying he would shoulder his responsibilities.
"I'd like to walk on the right path and do all the things that will, in the end, benefit the country and the people," Su said.
Additional reporting by Chiu Yu-tzu
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