FEATURE: Liu had no choice but to resign, analysts say *





By Shih Hsiu-chuan
Friday, Sep 11, 2009, Page 3


Known as the first premier in the nation’s history to begin his premiership by saying sorry — he apologized over the announcement of oil and electricity price increases being earlier than scheduled — outgoing premier Liu Chao-shiuan (劉兆玄) told his critics at the time that his term would “end with applause.”

While it may not be the applause he had pictured, acknowledgment has been given for his resignation, taking responsibility for the landslides triggered by floods brought by Typhoon Morakot last month that claimed more than 600 lives. Political analysts, however, said Liu had no choice but to leave his post amid a power struggle in the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and his own lackluster approval ratings.

On Aug. 18, in a bid to calm public anger over the government’s much-criticized typhoon relief operations, President Ma Ying-jeou (
馬英九) promised that officials found to have mishandled the floods would be held responsible and a Cabinet reshuffle would be made “by me and Premier Liu together.”

Speculation on Liu’s future started then, but it soon leaned toward Liu staying in office. Liu took everyone by surprise on Monday when he said that his Cabinet would resign en masse.

How things developed over the few weeks since Liu first offered to step down on Aug. 15 suggests the background to his resignation was not straightforward.

The announcement of Liu’s resignation came six days after he said in an interview that the Cabinet reshuffle would be “a little bigger than small scale.”

In the next two days, Liu did interviews with numerous cable TV stations, which was seen as a move to change the public’s perception of the Cabinet, its image damaged by poor and disorganized relief work.

During the interviews, Liu answered questions without hesitancy on his criteria for selecting new team members. Officials whose overall performance over the past 15 months were under par would be replaced, he said, adding that one of the factors under evaluation would be the Cabinet’s performance when dealing with the global financial crisis.

He also said then that the government would produce a report on its response to the typhoon by the end of the month to serve as a “reference for improvements” and to “restore the truth” regarding the Cabinet’s handling of the disaster “as there are many people jumping to conclusions.”

His remarks were widely interpreted by the media as a sign that Liu would stay on as premier and the size of the Cabinet reshuffle would be scaled down from the “large-scale and comprehensive” overhaul the premier had talked about on Aug. 19.

“From what Liu said, Liu and Ma were thinking differently about the reshuffle. Ma wanted to hold officials responsible by using the reshuffle, but in Liu’s reshuffle plan, apparently that was not factored in,” said an official at the Executive Yuan, who requested anonymity.

The official said Liu resigned to take political responsibility for the government’s poor rescue and relief efforts, but he had still failed to give a clear account of “what was done wrong by which officials.”

“Despite harsh criticism of the government’s performance, Liu had a different opinion. In a closed-door meeting with Master Hsin Yun (
星雲) on Aug. 21, he said the government had been ‘wronged,’” the official said.

Spokesmen at both the Executive Yuan and the Presidential Office said Ma and Liu had reached a consensus when Liu offered to resign that Liu stay on temporarily to get the post-disaster reconstruction work on track.

A source close to Liu, however, dismissed those accounts. Liu’s intention to resign had been kept confidential, the source said, and Ma had been under pressure from both KMT headquarters and the party’s legislative caucus to replace Liu.

“Over the 15 months, and especially when his Cabinet was under fire following the flooding, Liu, as an individual unaffiliated with any faction of the KMT, felt that it was difficult to implement policies,” the source said. “Liu therefore suggested that Ma choose someone who had the party behind him.”

Director of Liu’s office, Ting Nai-chi (
丁乃琪), on the other hand, denied any drama involving Liu’s resignation.

Saying that she was the only official at the Executive Yuan aware of Liu’s intention to resign, Ting said Liu “had been adamant about his resignation from the very beginning.”

Aside from Ting, Vice Premier Paul Chiu (
邱正雄) was the only Cabinet official informed of Liu’s decision to resign prior to Liu’s public announcement on Monday.

Ting, Chiu, and Chiu’s chief secretary Chen Chao-kai (
陳肇凱) all declined to comment on when Ma accepted Liu’s resignation, giving the same vague answer that “it was one day last week.”

Sources said there was a significant ratcheting up of pressure on Ma to replace Liu by the party following Liu’s “small reshuffle” remarks last Tuesday, which failed to meet the public’s expectations.

Ting denied the speculation, saying that the message that Liu would stay in office and the reshuffle would be small-scale were done to maintain the morale of officials executing imperative reconstruction work while worrying about a possible Cabinet reshuffle.

National Taiwan University political science professor Chang Lin-cheng (
張麟徵) said that “people who know Liu well understand that he would choose to leave even if Ma asked him to stay.”

“Given plummeting approval ratings for Liu, Ma and the government, Liu knew that staying on would harm not only himself, but also Ma,” Chang said.

Shih Cheng-feng (
施正鋒), a political commentator, said there was no alternative for Ma but to replace Liu, because only by doing so would it be possible to boost Ma’s declining approval rating.
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*Taipei Times》2009/9/11