Embattled Premier Sean Chen (陳冲) yesterday hinted that he planned to continue in his post and that there could be a “very small” Cabinet reshuffle as a handful of officials return to academia, following President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) inauguration for his second term on May 20.
Chen made the remarks after he led the Cabinet in resigning en masse yesterday, a move that is in line with constitutional practice, ahead of the swearing-in of the president.
Minister of Finance Christina Liu (劉憶如) was absent from the meeting, which sparked speculation as to whether she might be replaced amid controversy over her proposed capital gains tax on securities transactions.
Chen said Liu did not indicate why she was not present.
Minister of Transportation and Communications Mao Chih-kuo (毛治國) was also absent because he was on an inspection trip to the Hsuehshan Tunnel in preparation for a report to the Cabinet on how to improve road safety following a fatal traffic accident on Monday.
Minister of Economic Affairs Shih Yen-shiang (施顏祥) is also under fire for the steep increase in fuel prices that came into effect on April 2, and the looming rise in electricity rates set for June 10.
“I will continue to work hard until the last day of my stay,” Shih said, declining to comment on rumors that he could lose his job.
Cabinet officials who reportedly planned to return to academia included Minister Without Portfolio Chang Chin-fu (張進福), Economic Planning and Development Deputy Minister San Gee (單驥), Public Construction Commission Minister Chen Jeng-chuan (陳振川) and Vice Minister of Transportation and Communications Yeh Kuang-shih (葉匡時).
The new Cabinet is scheduled to be announced on May 20.
On the same day, the Executive Yuan will establish an office of spokesperson when the Government Information Office (GIO) is to be officially discontinued and its functions split between a newly established Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Executive Yuan.
GIO Minister Philip Yang (楊永明) said he “had no information” on whether he would be tapped as the first Executive Yuan spokesperson, but said he would respect whatever arrangements were made.
At the Cabinet meeting, the premier thanked its members for their contribution since he was appointed in February, Yang said.
The government would continue its reforms, despite opposition to the relaxation of rules on imports of US beef containing residues of the feed additive -ractopamine, as well as to increased fuel and electricity prices and a securities tax, Yang quoted Chen as saying.
“Reform is certain to meet resistance. It is the government’s responsibility to be receptive to the views of the public, but to also explain and defend its policies. When there is no room to compromise on policies because they are crucial to the long-term development of the nation, implementation can be adjusted to accommodate public views so that people find it easier to adapt to the change,” Chen was quoted as saying.
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Wu Yu-sheng (吳育昇) said Chen had worked very hard over the past three months and he supported him remaining as premier, but he urged the Executive Yuan to consult more with lawmakers on major policies to avoid the sort of friction recently seen between the Executive Yuan and the party caucus.
However, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) said Sean Chen should not be retained as premier.
If Sean Chen remains in the post, the DPP legislative caucus would seek a vote of no confidence in Chen in the legislature, DPP Legislator Pan Men-an (潘孟安) said.
Sean Chen’s low approval ratings reflected his poor performance, Pan said, adding that the Cabinet should refrain from making any major policy decisions before May 20, when Ma is scheduled to be inaugurated for his new term.
The DPP caucus said it was unhappy with the performance of nearly every minister in the Cabinet, but that it was particularly unhappy with officials who it said “absolutely must be replaced,” including Shih, Liu, Council of Agriculture Minister Chen Bao-ji (陳保基) and Health Minister Chiu Wen-ta (邱文達).
DPP headquarters echoed that opinion, with party spokesperson Lin Chun-hsien (林俊憲) adding that the Cabinet, which was formed in February, had not only failed to deliver over the past three months, but that it had also seriously erred on a series of policies, such as its management of an avian flu outbreak, US beef imports and its decision to raise fuel and electricity prices at almost the same time.
In light of such a miserable performance, Lin said “it would be a violation of the principle of political responsibility if Chen stayed on as the premier.”
The Taiwan Solidarity Union said on May 2 that it planned to seek a no-confidence vote against the Cabinet.
The Act Governing the Exercise of Rights of the Legislative Yuan (立法院職權行使法) stipulates that the legislature can propose a vote of no-confidence in the premier after collecting the signatures of more than a third of legislators.
Such a motion is deemed passed if a half the legislature votes for it.