Growing Public Dissatisfaction with Taiwan’s Tsai Ing-wen
Photo Credit: AFP
By Xiaolin Duan

Growing Public Dissatisfaction with Taiwan’s Tsai Ing-wen

May. 28, 2018  |     |  0 comments

On May 20, 2018, Tsai Ing-wen celebrated her two-year anniversary as the elected President of Taiwan. Ahead of the anniversary, various political organizations and media agencies released their polling results on public satisfaction with Tsai’s performance. Despite the agency effects and differences in survey design and sampling methods, all these results found greater public dissatisfaction with Tsai since she took office in 2016.


The dissatisfaction rate with Tsai’s performance in the first two years of her presidency are as follows: 56 percent in United Daily News (联合报), 69.9 percent in China Times (中国时报), 62.48 percent in Liberty Times (自由时报), 52 percent in Apple Daily (苹果时报) and 61.6 percent in (美丽岛电子报), among which the last three were actually apt to the Pan-green camp.


The two major political parties, the Kuomintang and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), also released their poll results, which obviously have strong agency bias. According to the Kuomintang, 70 percent of respondents are dissatisfied with Tsai, and more than 80 percent believe the status quo in the Taiwan Strait had been undermined, indicating Tsai’s failure to keep her word on the cross-Strait relationship. Meanwhile, the DPP’s poll results admitted that more people (48.4 percent) are dissatisfied with Tsai’s governance than those who are satisfied (41.7 percent) by a significant margin.


The DPP’s poll also indicated that more people (54.9 percent) have chosen to continue with their support of Tsai, while TVBS’s results show the opposite. The latter asked the respondents about whether Tsai’s policy and reform orientations are correct or not. 43 percent believed Tsai’s reform was fundamentally wrong in contrast to only 32 percent who believed in its correctness. In addition, only 34 percent expressed their trust of Tsai, while 56 percent distrusted her, leaving only very few people (roughly 10 percent) who stood neutral on this question.


What is more, these poll results also revealed fundamental challenges to Tsai’s and her administration’s governance in the future. Specific policies, such as cross-Strait relations, economic development, forward-looking infrastructure, energy supply shortage and air pollution, and labor reform — which cover almost all the important reforms initiated by Tsai and her administration — are controversial and mostly unfavorable among the public.


Taiwan’s economy grew by 2.58 percent in 2017, higher than the previous five years. This growth is believed to have benefitted from the global economy recovery. However, it is relatively lower than the global growth rate and is even lower than that of newly emerging markets.


Due to economic stagnation, the working class suffers from low wages. According to the Ministry of Finance of Taiwan, 25.2 percent of the working class belongs to the “low-wage” groups, of which 75 percent are young people aged between 21 and 40. In addition, due to the manipulation of the issue by politicians, the low wage problem has been largely politicized. The “miso-affluence” mentality has quickly spread, and distribution problems are seen to be continuously destabilizing Taiwan and creating conflict between the different social classes, careers, and even across generations. This conflict has been worsened by the tendency of the political opposition to make too many promises to the voters to weaken the popular support of the ruling party, even though it cannot honor its word when it takes power due to economic and budgetary constraints. The cycle continues no matter whether the Kuomintang or the DPP is in power. This only creates more hatred among the different classes and leaves the problem unresolved.

Tsai’s current reform failures may generate far-reaching impacts and possibly jeopardize the future of her political career significantly, if not destroy it.

Another major public concern is energy supply shortage. Apart from aging circuits and other problems, the fact that the gross electricity generation has failed to meet rising social and economic consumption is the fundamental reason that caused the massive blackout on August 15, 2017. The DPP has been blamed for its failure and its unrealistic energy policy. The Kuomintang blamed the DPP for its nuclear-free homeland plan which jeopardized Taiwan’s energy security. The DPP refused to take the blame, and instead accused former Kuomintang President Ma Ying-jeou for failing to develop green energy in the last eight years. An unexpected question is the increase in pollution and health problems from the increased consumption of thermal power. In the coming local elections, air pollution is a major popular concern and the candidates have been pressured to stand firm on environmental issues, further challenging Taiwan’s energy security.


A more alarming fact for Tsai’s quest for a second term as President of Taiwan is her decreasing popularity among the median and young voters. As roughly 20-30 percent of voters prefer to identify themselves as supporters of either pan-Blue or pan-Green camps, more than half of voters have no clear partisan preferences. Young students — due to their stronger Taiwan identity — used to strongly support the DPP, but Tsai’s reform had failed to incorporate young people’s major concerns into the policy process and particularly to improve the economy.


Another major challenge is the local elections in November 2018. The DPP is trying to win more seats and influence in the local elections. In particular, it wants to win the seats of the Taipei Mayor and the New Taipei City Mayor, both of which seems to be very difficult if not impossible. Su Tseng-chang, a relatively old DPP politician, is facing a very strong and more popular candidate from the Kuomintang. In Taipei, either the Kuomintang candidate Ting Shou-chung or the independent candidate and the current Mayor Ko Wen-je is more likely to win. Particularly due to the rising popularity of Mayor Ko, the pan-Green camp seems very likely to split during the election, which is certainly bad news for the DPP.


Many analysts are worried about Tsai’s quest for a second term due to the challenges from the different sides. First, the extreme deep-green (who usually strongly advocate for Taiwan independence) seem to have distanced themselves from Tsai and instead support William Lai, the current Premier of Administrative Yuan. Lai publicly claimed himself to be a real and pragmatic “worker of promoting Taiwan independence.” Second, Mayor Ko also shows a strong interest in running for President in 2020. Third, the DPP seems to have difficulty in achieving its defined objectives for the local elections. In this case, the party Chairman, Tsai herself, may have to take responsibility for the failure and resign, which may further undermine her political authority in the party.


Put all together, Tsai’s current reform failures may generate far-reaching impacts and possibly jeopardize the future of her political career significantly, if not destroy it. Things will get worse for Tsai, unless — as what the DPP currently claims, but which many analysts question — people will realize her achievements soon with the emergence of the benefits of her reform.

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