Minister of the Interior (MOI) Lee Hong-yuan (李鴻源) was forced to leave the Cabinet after declining an offer by Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) to transfer to the position of a minister without portfolio.
Jiang asked Lee to decide whether he would accept the office by midnight on Tuesday, but Lee insisted on returning to academia if he was not allowed to stay on as interior minister.
Executive Yuan Secretary-General Chen Wei-zen (陳威仁) was appointed to succeed Lee, the Executive Yuan said.
Lee, who has enjoyed a much higher approval rating than most Cabinet officials, denied that there has been tension between him and Jiang over the past months because of disagreements on various issues, as widely reported in the media.
However, “there had been differences in opinion,” Lee said during a brief press conference in the lobby of the ministry’s building.
“I wanted to finish the projects I’ve started at the ministry, and thought about resigning from my teaching post, but apparently my boss had different considerations,” Lee told reporters.
Executive Yuan spokesperson Sun Lih-chyun (孫立群) said late on Tuesday that Lee had mentioned to Jiang last week that he had to make a decision on whether he would return to his teaching post at National Taiwan University (NTU) in Taipei or resign by the end of the month.
“Lee said that he would resign from the teaching post if the government wanted him to continue to serve as interior minister,” Sun said.
After discussing the matter with President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), Jiang asked Lee if he would like to become a minister without portfolio instead.
Lee turned down the offer, saying that if he could not continue to serve as the interior minister he would rather return to teaching, Sun said.
Jiang told Lee that he could call at any time before midnight on Tuesday if he changed his mind.
Lee did not make that call.
There has long been speculation that Jiang and Lee were not on good terms.
Asked why he turned down the position of minister without portfolio, Lee said his objectives since he took over as the interior minister have always been completing national spatial planning and nationwide disaster prevention projects, “and those are the only things I want to do.”
Lee said that he would return to the NTU as a professor and would not consider running in the upcoming local elections.
The Presidential Office yesterday denied that Ma had met with Jiang on Tuesday to discuss the reshuffle, expressing regret over what it called groundless news reports.
Amid reports about Lee’s problematic relationship with Jiang over his resignation and the Cabinet reshuffle, Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) yesterday confirmed that he met with Ma to discuss the ministry’s failure to appropriate funding for construction of the athlete’s village for the Summer Universiade, and this has delayed the preparatory work on the international sports event the city is scheduled to host in 2017.
People First Party (PFP) Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) said that it was a shame Lee was forced to resign because he was someone with exceptional talent who was not afraid to speak his mind and get things done.
Additional reporting by Jake Chung and Shih Hsiu-chuan