Monday, September 11, 2017

William Lai sworn in

A tiny shrine in Tainan.

Straits Times reports on the dawn of a "pragmatic" era in Taiwan with the William Lai cabinet:
At the ceremony, the 57-year-old Mr Lai said his main task is to grow the economy, rather than to build political momentum before the island's next election, the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong reported.

He also said his main responsibility is to build Taiwan, "expand the economy and look after the people", adding that his Cabinet would press on with reforms in areas ranging from the energy industry to labour, pensions and tax, while "eliminating obstacles for investment", Reuters reported.
As a keen observer pointed out in a Facebook discussion, growing the economy is necessary to build momentum before the election. Lai's appointment is squarely aimed at the election.

Note what Lai did not discuss: wages, living standards, housing. Lai is an oily center-right construction-industrial state machine politician emitting reassuring signals to that System, not a "strongman" as Lawrence Chung said in SCMP the other day. IMHO we will not see any of the necessary changes to the system, just "reforms" that will result in further concentrations of wealth. He might actually hurt DPP chances in the 2018 election with such "reforms".

(aside: "strongman" isn't in Chung's piece by accident. It's a KMT propaganda attack on him from 2015.)

Lai's elevation to the premiership is a signal that he has arrived and is being groomed as a possible presidential candidate. As I wrote the other day...
.....This gives Lai a chance to get national name recognition and give him central government experience. It also gives him a chance to show his face in the north.

Note that this gets him out of Tainan in a way that prevents it from looking like he is ignoring Tainan to run for the New Taipei City mayorship -- it would be a bit awkward if he were campaigning in Yungho or Chungho while still technically the mayor of Tainan. It seems obvious to me that eventually Lai will be begged to run, in fine Taiwan style, for New Taipei City mayor in the 2018 election. And in fine Taiwan style, he will reluctantly accept.
I will be very surprised if Lai is still premier once the 2018 elections are over with. I still expect him to run for New Taipei City mayor. Although some publications are arguing that Lai will challenge Tsai for the 2020 presidential nomination, I think that if he was really going to do that, she would not have made him premier -- why raise a rival up? Rather, this is a signal that she is confident he won't challenge her in 2020. This means, though, he will be presidential in 2024 assuming all goes well. He will be ~65 then, the right age for a Taiwan president.

According to news reports the new cabinet is pretty much the same as the old. I expect several posts to change over the next few months as ministers leave for whatever reason: personal, to run for office, etc.

This is not only seasoning for Lai, giving him central government experience. It is also a test of Lai as a DPP party politician. Lai is a New Tide faction member. Recall that so far, the DPP Presidential candidate has also been the party chair. If Lai can successfully balance the factions and regional tensions in his handling of central government appointments, he will go far in demonstrating that he is viable as a party Chair (and Presidential candidate). If the new administration turns out to be New Tide dominated, that will hurt his support within the party for the presidency in 2024.

Lai is a signal of a good thing: he is another of the emerging new generation of leaders in the DPP, emerging leaders that the KMT simply doesn't have. Cheng Wen-Tsan in Taoyuan is also looking like a solid prospect for the future. Moreover, with the lock on Tainan and Kaohsiung, the DPP has places to smoothly cultivate new leaders. The KMT has only Nantou and Miaoli, two small, mountainous, and broke counties. Note that I have not mentioned Lin Chia-lung in Taichung. All I have to say about him is *sigh*

Lai is also a signal of another good thing: the internalization of democracy and democratic politics as part of the new Taiwan identity. The island was spared a terrible political crisis in figuring out what the Taiwan identity means with the emergence of the second generation pro-Taiwan identity (as opposed to first generation in which being pro-independence meant being anti-KMT) as a global event across the under-40 generation in Taiwan. This saved the DPP from the crisis of defining what Taiwan means: the young did it for them. In an alternate universe, the appointment of Lai might have triggered a round of debilitating debates over what Lai meant for the new identity. The lack of any debate is a positive sign.

Lai also signals that the generational shift in the DPP is now finished: the activist generation has handed the party off to the politicians. The revolution is complete, and it has not eaten too many of its children. You can tell that transition is now over because nobody discussed the Lai appointment in that context. Meanwhile the KMT has not undergone a parallel transition from mainlander elite control to Taiwanization and with the appointment of Wu Den-yih as Chairman, is in fact actively resisting it...

Much of this is covered in the ICRT show on Friday with Keith Menconi, Gavin Phipps as host, and myself. The podcast is great, we had a lot of lighthearted fun. Keith Menconi is wonderful and I will miss him very much. Hope everything goes well for you in the US, Keith!

On a personal note, a month after surgery I finally got on the bike for a ride in the hills. Feels good. More pictures inbound!
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