Sun, Feb 06, 2005 - Page 2 News List

New Cabinet post is same old wine in new bottles

A QUESTION OF SINCERITY Chiang Pin-kun may want to become vice premier, but until the DPP and the KMT work out their differences, the post will likely elude him

By Caroline Hong  /  STAFF REPORTER

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Vice Chairman Chiang Pin-kun (江丙坤) has become a central figure in the ongoing conflict between the KMT and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), thanks to an open invitation from new Premier Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) to become his second in command.

Although Chiang was highlighted as a candidate because of his financial expertise, his chances of joining the Cabinet are dependent on the will of the KMT and the sincerity of the DPP, experts and officials said yesterday.

While Chiang has been constantly courted by Premier Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) as his choice for vice premier, the KMT just increased the stakes on Wednesday, after demanding that the two parties reach a consensus on several issues. These include Taiwan's sovereign status, direct links with China, construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant, changing the nation's name, the proposed party assets bill and the investigation into the assassination attempt on President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮).

Although Hsieh and KMT Chairman Lien Chan (連戰) are set to meet on Feb. 17 to discuss Chiang's possible entry into the cabinet, experts said yesterday that the chances of reaching a compromise are slim, given the disparity between the KMT's and the DPP's political ideologies.

Chiang, who has a background in economic policymaking dating from his days as the chairman of the Council for Economic Planning and Development and the director of the nation's Board of Foreign Trade, has been touted by both the KMT and DPP as a talented bureaucrat who can "turn Taiwan's economy around."

While the KMT originally proposed that Chen nominate Chiang to be premier to form a "finance cabinet," the DPP also said it hopes to use Chiang's economic expertise if he becomes vice premier.

In a recent survey of Taiwan's business community conducted by the Council for Industrial and Commercial Development (工商建設研究會), 225 respondents listed Chiang as their first pick for premier on the strength of his experience in formulating economic policy, and listed Hsieh as their fourth pick, after second-place pick PFP Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) and third-place choice KMT Vice Chairman Vincent Siew (蕭萬長).

The survey reflects the people's hope for economic reform, said KMT Legislator Chu Feng-chih (朱鳳芝). Chu was responsible for requesting the survey from the council.

For Chiang to be an effective instigator of economic reform, Chu said, it is crucial that the DPP and the KMT first make clear what exactly Chiang's powers in office will be, and what role he will play in the Cabinet.

In a telephone interview with the Taipei Times, Chou Yu-jen (周育仁), a professor of political science at National Taipei University and a senior fellow with the National Policy Foundation, echoed Chu's remarks, saying that the vice premier position, like that of vice president, has no obvious function or clearly defined responsibilities.

"Chiang entering the cabinet is a symbolic thing [for the DPP]," Chou said yesterday.

"To be honest, the Cabinet is an agency whose purpose is defined by its head, the premier. No matter what, the premier has the last say on each issue, and often even official documents are sent directly to the premier from subordinate ministries without having gone to the vice premier. If Chiang enters the cabinet, he would still be just one voice, and have just one vote against the others," Chou said yesterday.

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