Editorial: A rocky Year of the Rooster ahead

President Tsai Ing-wen. (By Central News Agency)

The Lunar New Year is an occasion to meet relatives and old friends and celebrate a new beginning with them, no matter under which sign the new year resorts.

In any event, the Year of the Rooster looks like not being an easy time for Taiwan. The first clearly inauspicious signs came from the stock market, which atypically ended its opening session with a fall, even if only by 0.2 percent, for the first time in three years.

A survey pertained to show that consumer confidence was the lowest in four years, with all six sub-indexes falling, especially the one related to the job market. Nevertheless, that particular sub-index was still the only one indicating optimism, but barely.

Despite earlier signs last year that predicted economic growth would take off in 2017, the optimism has been unable to keep its momentum going.

The Year of the Rooster will also see a heavy workload for President Tsai Ing-wen and her administration as several reform items will need a resolution.

The national conference about unfair pensions is over, but the task of reforming them is not over, with legislation expected over the next few months likely to fire up opposition from vested interests again.

Workweek reform has seemingly been wrapped up, but many questions and demands for clarification have still been left, and the effects are still being measured.

Judicial reform will be one of the challenges for 2017, and so will be the handling of the ill-gotten party assets, with the Kuomintang unwilling to make any concessions or show any signs of cooperation.

Same-sex marriage was an issue at the forefront of public concern in the final months of 2016, but has faded into the background as renewed action is expected following the Lunar New Year legislative recess. Opposition from small but vocal religious groups has blocked major progress, while politicians from both major parties have made conflicting remarks on how they wish to proceed.

Despite President Tsai’s determination to stick by her campaign promises of no major changes to the status quo on relations with China, Beijing still seems stubborn in its refusal to face reality. We can expect to see continued efforts to curtail tourism to the island and to block its attempts at participating in international events.

An added element of uncertainty this year comes not from Taiwan’s traditional enemy, but from its traditional best friend. After brash businessman Donald Trump was surprisingly elected, President Tsai succeeded in the rare feat of being able to make a personal phone call. While that gave rise to a number of hopeful scenarios for closer Taiwan-U.S. relations, it remains to be seen how Trump, after his January 20 inauguration, will deal with the island.

His opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership and critical comments about Asian trading partners do not seem to bode well for Taiwan, even though on the other hand he can be expected to be less reticent on supplying the island with the weapons systems it needs.

President Trump’s apparent unpredictability is just one of potential unexpected roadblocks in the way to improving Taiwan in 2017. One major comfort for the government is the absence of elections during the year, which means it can pay less attention to negative opinion polls and go forward with painful, difficult but necessary reforms.

Nevertheless, the media have already started speculating on who will step forward where in the 2018 city and county elections. As even before 2017, speculation was rife about what Taipei City Mayor Ko Wen-je and Tainan City Mayor William Lai would do. In Ko’s case, whether he would run for re-election or not, possibly against a rival candidate from the Democratic Progressive Party, and in Lai’s case, whether a move to New Taipei City or Taipei City was opportune or not.

No matter which path the Tsai Administration takes on the issues, there will be votes to be lost or won. The most important factor is that the government shows the courage and determination to face a few stormy months ahead without losing sight of the land beyond.