Minister of Health Yeh Ching-chuan (葉金川) resigned yesterday in preparation for the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) Hualien County commissioner primary.
Premier Liu Chao-shiuan (劉兆玄) approved Yeh’s resignation after meeting Yeh at the Executive Yuan yesterday morning, Cabinet Spokesman Su Jun-pin (蘇俊賓) told reporters.
The resignation will take effect on Thursday afternoon.
PHOTO: WANG MIN-WEI, TAIPEI TIMES
The premier also requested that Yeh report to the Executive Yuan during its weekly meeting on Thursday regarding the Department of Health’s measures to prevent a swine flu epidemic.
Su said the premier had begun to speak to possible candidates to take over from Yeh and would publicize the nomination once it was finalized.
Yeh, 59, was appointed health minister in September after his predecessor, Lin Fang-yu (林芳郁) resigned amid the made-in-China melamine milk powder scandal.
At a press conference later yesterday, Yeh said the premier “reluctantly” approved his resignation, but said he understood Yeh’s reasons for leaving the job and joining the primary.
Yeh said that soon after assuming the position last year, he told the premier he did not intend to remain health minister for a long period of time.
“I’ve always treated Hualien as my home and wanted to serve [the people] in Hualien. I have special feelings for Hualien and I have my own views on how to develop the county. I’m confident that I can do better than the other aspirants [in the primary],” said Yeh, who previously taught at Tzu Chi University in Hualien.
Aside from Yeh, KMT Legislator Fu Kun-chi (傅崑萁), Hualien County Council Speaker Yang Wen-chi (楊文值), Hualien City Mayor Tsai Chi-ta (蔡啟塔) and former director of Hualien County’s Agricultural Development Office Tu Li-hua (杜麗華), have registered with the party to participate in the primary.
The KMT is scheduled to finalize the nomination by Sept 12.
Yeh said his resignation did not mean he did not care about the battle against the (A)H1N1 virus.
“I will offer consultation [to the government] as a [public health] expert and a concerned citizen when necessary,” Yeh said.
“In disease prevention, what matters more is the [public health] system and teamwork. [The department’s] team is working very smoothly,” Yeh said.
“Compared with the situation in the US, at least we have managed to delay the emergence of [cluster] outbreaks by three months,” he said.
Legislators across party lines voiced dissatisfaction with Yeh’s resignation.
KMT Legislator Lo Shu-lei (羅淑蕾) said Yeh should not have put the primary before flu prevention.
“He made the worst decision at the worst time,” KMT Legislator Chiu Yi (邱毅) said. “It’s as if he was telling voters that the election is more important than disease prevention.”
The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) criticized Yeh for “abandoning the Taiwanese people” at the height of the flu epidemic to pursue political objectives and called him a “runaway minister.”
“A health minister should always have the public’s welfare as his first priority. Rather than stand shoulder to shoulder with the public to fight the virus, Yeh has chosen to turn his back just when the [number of infections] has reached an alarming level,” DPP Spokesman Cheng Wen-tsang (鄭文燦) said.
Cheng also described the KMT’s primary as a “mockery to democracy” because the entire process, including the dates, was “tailor made” to suit Yeh’s needs and schedule.
“Yeh’s nomination has long been known, but the KMT is nevertheless creating the illusion of a run-off. This is completely anti-democratic,” he said.
Cheng denied rumors that the DPP was ready to nominate Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴), a former legislator and the current director of the DPP’s international affairs division, to run against Yeh, but declined to say when the party was expected to announce its candidate.
But later yesterday, the DPP confirmed that Hsiao and former minister of the interior Su Chia-chuan (蘇嘉全) were moving their residency to Hualien County.
Earlier yesterday, KMT Chairman Wu Poh-hsiung (吳伯雄) said he would ask Yeh to participate in the Hualien primary.
Wu said he hoped the matter would be settled by the end of the month or early next month.
Amid pressure from would-be candidates upset at the KMT’s plan to nominate Yeh, party headquarters backtracked on Saturday night and announced it would hold a primary.
But the form of the primary has attracted criticism, with skeptics saying it is custom-made for Yeh because the primary, which usually would include opinion polls and member votes, will only rely on opinion polls.
Wu said yesterday that while a member vote was the most democratic way, it would be detrimental to party unity.
Wu said they agreed to scrap the member votes with the consent of all aspirants.
Contradicting media reports saying that Yeh had earlier refused to participate in a primary, Wu yesterday said that Yeh had expressed interest in competing in the primary.
Presidential Office Spokesman Wang Yu-chi (王郁琦) said yesterday that President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), Premier Liu, Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) and Wu all supported Yeh’s decision to run.
A presidential aide who asked to remain anonymous yesterday dismissed speculation that Ma had wanted Yeh to stand in the election, although he was glad to see Yeh vie for the post.
The spokesman said Ma understood it had always been Yeh’s intention to return to Hualien and that he had purchased an apartment, a farmhouse and a canoe in Hualien.
While Yeh has come under fire for quitting his position to run in the primary, Wu said criticism of the candidates was inevitable.
The party’s job is to strike a balance between its overall image and the opinion of the party’s anti-corruption committee.
The ideal candidate would be someone who appealed to the public and had a solid support base, he said.
Asked whether it was appropriate for Yeh to resign, Wu said the Executive Yuan must ensure that the decision-making mechanism was solid, meaning that the health department would continue to operate regardless of who headed the department.
In related news, KMT Secretary-General Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) threatened yesterday to take legal action if the individual behind an accusation against him about the Hualien County commissioner election continued to spread rumors.
Hualien Tourism Association president Shih Sheng-lang (施勝郎) has filed a lawsuit against Wu Den-yih, alleging that he met one of Yeh’s rivals for the nomination to convince her not to run so that Yeh could secure the party? nomination.
Shih yesterday continued to place advertisements in Chinese-language newspapers accusing Wu Den-yih.
Saying it was “obvious” who the “instigator working behind the scene” was, the secretary-general urged the person to “come out courageously” or to face a lawsuit.
Wu Den-yih said that it was his duty as party secretary-general to contact and mediate among interested hopefuls, but he never broke the law or did anything unethical.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY JENNY W. HSU
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