Taiwan names Jiang Yi-huah as new premier

Central Bank Governor Perng Fai-nan to stay on

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – Vice Premier Jiang Yi-huah will become the new premier and Transportation Minister Mao Chi-kuo will be promoted as his deputy, while Premier Sean Chen will become presidential adviser, the government confirmed Friday.
The announcement was first made by the Presidential Office late Thursday night after increasing media speculation that Jiang was to be promoted after his management of the pension reform issue over the past few months.
Chen confirmed the basic changes at the Cabinet’s year-end news conference. He said he had offered to resign for health and family reasons. The results of a medical checkup which came out last month reportedly convinced him he had to leave office.
Chen’s eventual appointment as presidential adviser means he will not replace the highly popular Perng Fai-nan as governor of the Central Bank, as many media reports had speculated.
Jiang told reporters that President Ma Ying-jeou had invited him to a meeting last Sunday night, which sealed the new appointment. At 53, Jiang will reportedly be the youngest new premier ever.
He first gained attention as Interior Minister but his career since has made huge leaps forward. After being promoted to Vice Premier a year ago, he announced he would be applying to rejoin the ruling Kuomintang. The move was interpreted as a sign he was Ma’s favorite to run for mayor of Taipei City in 2014, despite the eventual likelihood that he might face other candidates such as Sean Lien, the son of KMT Honorary Chairman Lien Chan.
After Ma presented the pension reform package which had been drawn up under Jiang’s leadership, commentators speculated that he might become premier next, and eventually even the KMT presidential candidate in 2016. Critics interpreted Jiang’s promotion as a move by Ma to block off one of the most popular other contenders, New Taipei City Mayor Eric Liluan Chu.
As Mao is to move up to the position of vice premier, his deputy Yeh Kuang-shih will succeed him as the head of the Ministry of Transportation and Communications, reports said. Yeh has also been chairing the company running Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport.
It was not known yet Friday which other portfolios were going to change hands. With Taiwan’s economy performing poorly for the past few years, Economics Minister Shih Yen-shiang and Council for Economic Planning and Development Minister Yiin Chii-ming have often been targets of demands for change, but it was not known yet Friday whether Jiang wanted them to stay on or not.
Chen only served as premier for one year since taking office on February 6, 2012, but the short period was marked by numerous controversies. The lifting of a ban on the import of beef from the United States treated with lean-meat drugs, rises in the price of oil and electricity, the introduction of a capital gains tax for stocks and the rising gap between rich and poor were just some of the incidents which caused both Ma’s and Chen’s popularity to plummet to record lows of between 13 percent and 20 percent in the opinion polls.
Ma praised Chen Friday for having guided the country through the fallout of the European debt crisis and having pushed through numerous reforms which would improve Taiwan’s position in the long term.
Chen denied he regretted taking on the premiership, but had faced the challenge with his usual attitude of “never surrender, never give up.”
Once Jiang and his new Cabinet are sworn in, they will have to face continued conflict over the government’s pension reform plans and the issue of the fourth nuclear plant. While Taiwan’s economy is expected to grow by 3.53 percent this year according to government forecasts, unemployment and the crisis facing the nation’s social security system are likely to continue, observers said.
Reaction from the opposition Democratic Progressive Party was mainly negative. Ma should explain the reasoning behind his choice of Jiang instead of announcing it in a news release in the middle of the night, party spokesman Lin Chun-hsien said.
“Jiang Yi-huah will be another puppet premier,” said senior DPP legislator Ker Chien-ming, adding that the outside world would not have any expectations from a premier who did not have his own voice.
Lin said the DPP had been calling for a Cabinet reshuffle and for Chen’s resignation for months as the economy worsened, but Ma never paid any attention, leading to the present situation where government and country had lost any sense of direction.