Premier Frank Hsieh's (謝長廷) announcement of his resignation yesterday was preceded by a statement from President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) 30 minutes earlier that Hsieh was stepping down, triggering speculation that Chen was trying to show up the premier.
But officials later attributed the situation to a delay in Hsieh's press conference, which was originally scheduled to be held at the Government Information Office at 11:30 a.m., but was later delayed for a half an hour to 12 noon.
As a result, President Chen Shui-bian revealed the premier's resignation first at 11:30 a.m. when he spoke with reporters during a visit to military personnel in Kinmen.
Despite speculation in some quarters that Chen had pre-empted Hsieh, giving the premier no choice but to step down, the two men said they had privately agreed on Monday night that Hsieh would resign.
The decision came after weeks of public anticipation of a Cabinet reshuffle, following the crushing defeat of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party in the December 3 local government elections.
In his speech yesterday, Chen expressed appreciation to Hsieh for his efforts and contributions over the past year. The president said that Hsieh, who took office in February 2005, had done a good job and acknowledged that the premier was bowing out "in consideration of the overall situation."
The president said that in the interest of domestic political stability, he will name a new premier and push for the Cabinet reshuffle to be completed before the Lunar New Year, which commences on January 29.
Though Chen was yesterday unwilling to comment on his preference of a new head of Cabinet, former DPP chairman Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) is seen as the most likely choice.
Su, if nominated by the president to serve as premier, will become the fifth Cabinet head in Chen's five-year government after Tang Fei (唐飛), Chang Chun-hsiung (張俊雄), newly elected DPP Chairman Yu Shyi-kun (游錫堃), and Hsieh.
In his address to the troops on Kinmen, Chen praised the soldiers for sacrificing the chance to go home over the Lunar New Year in order to safeguard the nation and to ensure that the people of Taiwan would have a good holiday.
The outlying island of Kinmen is regarded as Taiwan's front line of defense, since it is only 12 kilometers from China.
Chen said 2006 is a crucial year for Taiwan, as it marks 10 years since China launched two missile operations in the Taiwan Strait in an attempt to prevent the island from holding its first presidential election.
The president said that China is gradually imposing a clearer threat on Taiwan by actively increasing its military strength, keeping 784 missiles aimed at the island, and passing an anti-secession law that allows China to legally attack Taiwan. Given all these factors, Taiwan is now in further need of the capability to defend itself, he added.
"China's attraction to businesspeople as an appealing market with a rapidly advancing economy is understandable," said Chen. "Yet its turbulent society suggests that China is not shining from inside, as a truly developing country should."
Chen further expressed disappointment that Taiwanese businesspeople and investors aspiring to make money in China have blamed the government for the stagnation of cross-strait relations.