President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) approval rating has been dropping steadily, and there are several theories about why. Tsai said her administration would listen to the public and solve issues, and while it might have solved some problems, it has also created new, bigger ones. Among these is the way her administration sides with civic organizations and bows to protesters.
Examples abound — the administration’s response to the China Airlines flight attendants strike and the protests of laid-off toll booth collectors, the rebuilding of the Chang Pharmacy in Miaoli County’s Dapu Borough (大埔), the immediate announcement that annual bonuses for retired military personnel, civil servants and public-school teachers would be issued unchanged as soon as these groups threatened to take to the streets, and the announcement that the No. 1 reactor at the Jinshan Nuclear Power Plant in New Taipei City’s Shihmen District (石門) would not be reactivated — although that had been the Cabinet’s intent.
In addition, after having withdrawn her nominations for president and vice president of the Control Yuan following criticism from civic groups that the two had roles in the party-state era, Tsai nominated former grand justice Hsu Tzong-li (許宗力) and former High Court judge Tsai Jiung-tun (蔡炯墩). Furthermore, just-appointed representative to Singapore Antonio Chiang (江春男) had to step down after being arrested for drunk driving.
It seems that as soon as there is a protest or a backlash, Tsai and Premier Lin Chuan (林全) recant and give in.
Ever since the Sunflower movement, civic groups have demonstrated their strength, and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which itself started out as a social movement, maintains communication channels with these organizations to mobilize voter support. However, after the party took power, these organizations seem to have become a hindrance to the government’s ability to implement policies. Indeed, many of the government’s policies take the positions of civic groups into consideration, although many of the demands of these groups did not appear until Tsai took office — they are longstanding demands and Tsai and Lin are now helping to resolve these disputes.
If these disputes are not dealt with, the costs of continuing protests — for policing and in terms of lost economic activity — will begin to mount. Endless concessions will result in criticism for not handling issues in accordance with the law and even for violating court decisions. That would set a negative precedent, and the public will have to foot the bill.
The government has been criticized because it is being held hostage by a small number of civic groups that are taking turns to take advantage of the government, and critics therefore feel that the government no longer shows any concern for ordinary members of the public. As the government is attacked from all directions, society is filled with a negative impression, and so it is not strange that the government’s approval ratings keep sliding.
The DPP has its roots in a social movement, and it should have a good understanding of the essence of such movements. Anyone actively engaging in a civic movement is engaged in the pursuit of a moral ideal, and they will not give up just because they succeed on any one single issue. Once one battle is over, they will turn to the next issue. The government must handle its relations with civic groups with care, and if it wants to co-opt them, it is moving in the wrong direction.
The government must remain aloof from and independent of these groups. It should listen to public opinion, but it must give careful consideration to the interests and benefits of ordinary members of the public and resolve issues by adhering to its own values and positions to avoid a situation where anything it does is perceived as wrong and criticized. That is the only way to pave the way for smooth policy implementation.
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