Premier Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) yesterday officially announced his decision to resign, ending weeks of speculation over his fate.
The premier said he would lead his Cabinet members in a mass resignation Monday in order to expedite the handover of authority to the new premier to be appointed by President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).
Hsieh said he felt greatly relieved after the president agreed to his resignation during a meeting late Monday night.
The premier confirmed that he had verbally submitted his resignation in talks with Chen immediately after the December 3 electoral setback in order to "share responsibility with party members," but the president asked him to stay in office for the time being for the sake of party unity.
Hsieh said his Cabinet team had borne the burden of numerous speculation and "winds and rain" during the intervening month but continued "to fulfill their responsibilities."
A key factor in Hsieh's resignation was the recent cuts in the central government's budget passed by the Legislative Yuan.
"For the sake of national security, economic development and administrative work and other considerations, I resolutely advocated raising a motion to the Legislative Yuan for reconsideration of the central government budget" for 2006.
The budget had been slashed by the pan-blue opposition majority of the Kuomintang and People First Party by NT$36.43 billion, or 2.3 percent of the total, and froze more than NT$240 billion in funds for the Executive Yuan, the Examination Yuan and the Judicial Yuan.
The premier said he publically proposed the reconsideration, which did not receive the immediate support from the president, "because I firmly believe that only with power can there be coexistence and detente."
"Based on constitutional principles, I am willing to bear responsibility for the success or failure of the reconsideration," declared Hsieh, who stated that the fact his initiative "cannot receive support has made my decision to resign even firmer."
The premier said the decision to resign on Monday was made to shorten the period of a caretaker Cabinet and give the incoming premier more time to form a new administrative team to prepare for the next legislative session in February.
The premier expressed gratitude to his Cabinet team for its resolution and hard work "under the high expectations of society and political pressure" and stated that his administration had "upheld the golden triangle concept of adjusting Taiwan's development system, promoting economic prosperity, fostering social and balanced humanistic and sustainable development."
Saying that the Cabinet had tallied a fine report card in less than a year, Hsieh related that Taiwan's per capita income had topped US$15,000 last year and that unemployment had been reduced to its lowest level in five years and listed other achievements in financial reform, promoting tourism and holding down petroleum product and electricity prices.
The premier also stated that his Cabinet had promoted political coexistence and detente under the principle of "Taiwan identity" and reaffirmed his believe that detente and coexistence was the best medicine for Taiwan society. He also advised the president to allow the incoming premier a little more time to realize his or her policy visions.
Answering questions from reporters, Hsieh revealed that the president had attributed the electoral defeat in part to the friction between the so-called "four kings" who are considered contenders for the DPP's nomination for the March 2008 presidential election, namely Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮), former party Chairman Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌), DPP Chairman-elect Yu Shyi-kun (游錫堃) and himself.
Hsieh quoted the president as saying that this infighting had made it impossible for the party leaders to manifest their full efforts and, if continued, would erode the DPP's political capital well before the 2008 elections and therefore had to be resolved.
The premier related that he had advised Chen to invite all four DPP leaders to sit down and talk, but that on December 7, a presidential staffer told him that the president had decided on a formula to settle the differences.
The arrangement included a commitment by Hsieh that if he stayed on as premier, he had to agree not to run as the DPP's presidential candidate in March 2008.
Hsieh related that he told Chen that his relationship with the other three DPP politicians "was not as tense as it was once between you and me."
The premier also related that he was able, despite the tension, to support Chen in his campaigns for Taipei City mayor in late 1994 and for the presidency in March 2000, implying that he could do the same for the other DPP leaders.
The premier also expressed his willingness to respect Chen's will as to whether he should step down or stay in his post as premier.
After the January 15 by-election for the chairmanship of the DPP which was won by Yu, Hsieh said that Chen told him that he had failed in his mediation effort.
The premier emphasized that the president's mediation efforts had not failed "because I had rejected or declined to accept," but would not reveal who he felt was behind the failure.
However, other observers questioned the premier's account.
"I never received any notice or participated in such consultations," DPP Chairman-elect Yu said.
"It would be unreasonable to impose such a requirement on a future premier," commented DPP Secretary-General Lee Yi-yang (李逸洋), who added that the question of who should be the DPP's standard-bearer in 2008 "should be determined by the party's nomination system."
Most media continued to speculate that Hsieh's replacement will be former DPP Chairman Su Tseng-chang, who resigned to accept political responsibility for the DPP's severe electoral setback in local elections December 3.
But Su refused to comment on the conjecture yesterday.
DPP Legislator Wu Ping-jui, who hails from Taipei County where Su served six years as commissioner, told the Taiwan News that "there as not yet been a finalized notice. In Taiwan, quite often if a personnel decision is revealed too early, it is not necessarily favorable."
National Policy Adviser to the President and National Taiwan University sociology professor Michael Hsiao (蕭新煌) stated that it was unlikely that Chen would pick an alternative to Su, such as former vice premier Lin Hsin-yi (林信義）.
"While the choice of Lin might be made to boost the economy, it would be the possibility of an alternative to Su, who as a politician as no choice but to go through this experience and face this challenge," Hsiao stated.
"Hsieh seems to feel somewhat bitter and should have left office with more grace," commented Hsiao.
The NTU sociologist also stated that Hsieh's advocacy of "detente and coexistence" proved infeasible. "In Taiwan politics now, it is useless to try to please your rivals," said Hsiao, who stated that the DPP government "should use its political skills to struggle for its programs based on reason and evidence and appeal to support from society."
"Su should enjoy broader factional support within the DPP and may be able to learn lessons from the past year that a premier cannot depend only on one person but needs to exercise leadership of his team,"Hsiao said, adding that "the DPP's biggest problem is that "its leaders talk too much."