A recent survey showed that more than 40 percent of respondents felt that premier-designate Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) was an unfamiliar face, presumably because he entered politics just five years ago when President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) was first elected.
The appointment has made the 52-year-old a contender to be the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) candidate in the 2016 presidential election and will bring to the fore his political convictions, which have previously been kept out of the spotlight.
A Yale graduate who wrote his doctoral thesis on Hannah Arendt, one of the leading political thinkers of the 20th century, famous for her analysis of totalitarian regimes, the professor of political philosophy has long been labeled a liberal academic.
Following two years at Academia Sinica, Jiang taught at National Taiwan University (NTU) from 1995 and was honored several times with teaching awards.
His course on the history of Western political thought was one of the most popular at the university because he provided students with a “solid” grounding in political theory and he had “a structured and holistic approach” to teaching the subject, a former political science student at the university surnamed Chen (陳) said.
Chen said that Jiang’s course lectures were turned into verbatim transcripts and compiled into a textbook, an instance which exemplified “how useful students found his course.”
It is normal practice for law-school students to use lectures given by leading law-school professors as preparatory material for national judicial exams; but in the department of political science, Jiang was one of a very few receiving this treatment, if not the only one, she said.
While at the NTU, Jiang taught courses underlying liberal politics, including the history of Western political philosophy, democracy, liberalism, civil society and multilateralism.
That may help explain why a decision he made while serving as minister of the interior to reject a visit by exiled Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer in 2009 attracted the ire of some NTU students who put up posters condemning him for “betraying academic consciences.”
In retrospect, Chen said that Jiang was a political-science teacher who did not tell students straight out what his political philosophy was.
“There was no discussion of current affairs in his classroom and he did not ‘feed’ students with political stances on topics such as unification [with China] and [Taiwanese] independence, from neither left nor right, or from authoritarianism to democracy, which gave no clues about what his political beliefs were,” Chen said.
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Lin Chia-lung (林佳龍), who has known Jiang since they both studied at Yale in the 1980s, said that Jiang had never positioned himself as a public intellectual before he went into politics.
“He was reserved, kept away from politics and had never engaged in expressive conduct,” Lin said.
After Ma was first elected president in 2008, Jiang was appointed minister of the Research, Development, and Evaluation Commission and then named minister of the interior in Sept 2009. When Ma started his second term last year, he was designated vice premier.
Jiang was believed to have set his mind to shifting his career further into politics when he took up the vice premiership.
At that time, he did not ask the NTU for a second, and last, four-year term of leave to work in the government, but instead resigned from his position as a professor.
In October last year, Jiang reinstated his KMT membership, sparking speculation that he was Ma’s favorite candidate to represent the party in next year’s Taipei City mayoral election.
Lin said he believed that the professor-turned-politician has a strong sense of duty to participate in politics and that his academic credentials have equipped him with the ability to make decisions and formulate public policies.
However, whether Jiang will be able to successfully perform the duties of a premier, as stipulated in the Constitution, “is yet to be proven,” Lin said.
The Constitution adopts a dual executive system. Under this system, the president is the head of state, while the premier, although appointed by the president, is the head of the government, and is responsible to the legislature, Lin said.
If Jiang does not maintain strict adherence to the spirit of the constitution in carrying out his duties and instead considers himself “a chief of staff of the president,” he is likely to repeat the failures of his predecessor, Sean Chen (陳冲), who once described Ma as his boss, Lin said.
In this regard, Jiang has “got off to a bad start” because he seemed to accept an announcement made by the Presidential Office that Mao Chi-kuo (毛治國) would serve as vice premier, a violation of Article 56 of the Constitution, under which the premier is vested with powers to appoint Cabinet members, Lin said.
In just five years in politics, Jiang has won praise for his sharpness of mind and eloquence.
Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) said that Jiang has demonstrated his “clearness” and “professional competence” in how he dealt with the intricate pension reform issue.
A veteran journalist surnamed Lee (李), said that what Jiang had most impressed Ma with was his idea that the government raise subsidies for eight groups of low-income and underprivileged people to counter the DPP’s proposed increase of an elderly farmers’ subsidy.
The policy, which was implemented two months before last year’s presidential election, was regarded by Ma as an important factor contributing to his victory, Lee said.
Seen by some people as a clone of Ma in terms of character, Jiang has been dubbed by some local media as “little Ma Ying-jeou.”
That label could be a burden, not only because Ma’s approval ratings have been low, but because it highlights his lack of persistence in implementing policies, Lee said.
Jiang might be good at mapping out visions and advertising ideas, but many of his proposed policies at the ministry of the interior ended up being fruitless, Lee said.
As an example, Lee said that Jiang had backed down on his commitment to include Kinmen and Matsu in then-newly promulgated territorial water delineations in November 2009, after security officials voiced concern that the move could create controversy, given that the waters are already claimed by Beijing.
Jiang also vowed to begin construction of social rental housing to provide people with affordable houses by the end of 2011, but the plan still only exists on paper, he said.