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Premier faces questions over MRT, election woes

President continues talks with top officials, emphasizes stability

Premier faces questions over MRT, election woes

President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) met with Premier Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) yesterday afternoon for the third time since the governing Democratic Progressive Party suffered a decisive defeat in Saturday's local government elections.

The meeting between the two leaders came after the premier visited the Legislature yesterday where he faced tough questions from reporters about his intention to resign and exhortations from opposition lawmakers to take responsibility for repeated accidents on the Kaohsiung MRT project.

Hsieh confirmed that after the election, he submitted his resignation to President Chen twice to shoulder responsibility for the ruling party's defeat in the elections.

He revealed that in response, President Chen had stated that, for the time being, the administration must give priority to stabilizing the domestic situation.

According to Hsieh, the president said that the DPP government must particularly endeavor to maintain the country's economic and social stability in the wake of the governing party's electoral defeat.

"We should continue to carry out (our) functions every day," Hsieh said.

President Chen cleared his official schedule again yesterday, apart from meetings at the Presidential Office with top government officials and DPP leaders to listen to their opinions the current situation.

After a meeting with Chen on Monday, Presidential Secretary General Yu Shyi-kun (游錫堃) claimed that he had no idea when the president would end his period of contemplation. So far, the president "had not yet cleared his mind," Yu told reporters yesterday.

After calling on Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) yesterday morning, the premier told reporters "I am still functioning as premier, which does not necessarily mean that this is a permanent situation."

If after listening to the opinions of top government officials and DPP leaders, President Chen comes up with a decision to name a new premier, "there will be no problem with that," Hsieh said. He noted that it is natural for every premier to face a day when he may have to relinquish his post.

Commenting on the DPP's defeat in the local elections, the premier said:"I will say nothing to try to absolve myself of blame for the DPP's failure... because it was the Executive Yuan that pushed for the three local elections to be combined into one." He was referring to an argument by some DPP members that the party's setback was due in part to the decision to hold two grassroots elections for township leaders and councilors together with the magistrate and mayoralty elections.

Speaking to reporters yesterday evening, Government Information Office Minister Yao Wen-chih confirmed that Premier Hsieh had met with President Chen Shui-bian for two hours yesterday afternoon at the Office of the President.

"Based on my understanding, the premier continued to exchange views with the president on the post-election political situation," stated Yao.

Yao added that Hsieh reported to Chen about his morning meeting with Legislative Yuan Speaker Wang Jin-pyng and on the interaction between the Executive and Legislative branches and the promotion of major Cabinet policies and the direction of DPP party reform.

Yao added that the premier and the president also discussed the key topics and format for the proposed second Economic Development Advisory Conference.

However, the GIO minister responded only by stating "I do not know" or "I cannot reply to that question" regarding questions about the scope of a possible Cabinet reshuffle or the content of DPP internal reform.

Regarding reports that his own position may be changed, Yao stated that "I am simply a soldier and I cannot choose my battlefield, but I will do what the team or the premier tells me to do."

Regarding the direction of party reform, Yao acknowledged that Hsieh, a former DPP chairman, "has his own views but, like the president, is soliciting a wide range of opinions."

"The premier also presented the president with a briefing report on our preparations for the second Economic Development Advisory Conference," Yao said.

The GIO minister said the Executive Yuan's initial proposal is to mainly invite representatives of Taiwan's six major industrial and commercial business associations and stated that there are "several alternatives" but no fixed agenda for the key issues to be discussed at the council.

Meanwhile, another problem Hsieh faced yesterday was Monday's cave-in at the construction site of the Kaohsiung MRT project. Opposition lawmakers across the political spectrum lambasted Hsieh, who served as Kaohsiung mayor before assuming the premiership in February, saying that he should take full responsibility for the repeated accidents on the project.

"Repeated incidents surrounding the construction of the Kaohsiung MRT have resulted in some political instability, therefore, the DPP government would do better to name a new premier at this point to boost people's morale," commented Legislator David Huang of the pan-green Taiwan Solidarity Union.

Independent Legislator Chiu Yi (邱毅), who is viewed by some pan-blue supporters as something of a hero for his exposure of MRT-related scandals that tarnished the DPP administration's image and reputation ahead of the local government elections, joined the chorus of criticism yesterday.

"How can you think that you don't have to take responsibility for committing such a sin?" Chiu asked, referring to latest cave-in on the MRT project.

The premier said he has instructed the Ministry of Economic Affairs to handle Monday's accident.

"I may go there to make an inspection, if necessary," Hsieh said, adding that at the moment government agencies are working together to resolve the crisis by dividing the tasks.

Hsieh also said he was confident that the new chairman of the Kaohsiung Rapid Transit Corporation, Chiang Yao-chung, "will be capable of handling the challenge, as he has gained lots of experience during his stint on the administration of the Taipei MRT system."