Taiwan premier resigns to help shore up president's falling popularity

TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen has accepted the resignation of Premier Lin Chuan, the ruling party said on Monday, a departure that had been widely expected because of the president’s falling public support.

FILE PHOTO: Taiwan's former finance minister Lin Chuan speaks during a news conference after he was announced as premier, in Taipei, Taiwan March 15, 2016. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

Taiwan presidents often shuffle premiers in response to dips in popularity. Lin had faced mounting pressure to step down as Tsai’s popularity plummeted to 29.8 percent by August, a private foundation survey has shown.

When she took office in May 2016, her approval rating was as high as 70 percent.

“The president has accepted his resignation after sincere talks,” Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) said in a statement.

Under Taiwan’s system, the president is the more important office, holding the jobs of commander in chief and head of state. The prime minister is appointed by the president to lead the cabinet.

Tsai is likely to be looking ahead to her 2020 re-election campaign.

Frozen relations with China, a backlash over pension reforms and a revised labor rule, among other controversies, have put pressure on her to replace Lin, in preparation for that campaign.

Lin said the party had “reached a point where we must embark on the next stage of the mission”.

“So I’ve resigned to pave the way for the president to re-organize her team and resources for that purpose,” he said.

The presidential office said a new premier would be announced on Tuesday.


William Lai, the popular mayor of the southern city of Tainan and a leading DPP figure, is widely expected to replace Lin.

A Lai premiership would not necessary help the president to improve her ratings, some analysts said.

“They need a reboot, because current ratings for both are low,” said Alex Huang, a professor of Tamkang University, Taipei, referring to Tsai and Lin, adding that it must have been a hard decision for Tsai because of their friendship.

“Lin is sort of biting the bullet to clear the path ahead for the president and the next premier,” Huang said.

Some representatives of the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) have expressed scepticism that Tsai would build an effective partnership with Lai, if he did replace Lin.

“I’d like to see how they both work together,” said Lai Shyh-bao, a KMT legislator. “Both Tsai and Lai have reputations for being overbearing and domineering.”

Lin has been criticized not just by legislators from the opposition, but also from his own DPP. Tsai had praised him as “a great communicator” when she introduced him last year.

Lin, a close confidant of the president who retains her trust, could become the next central bank governor when current governor Perng Fai-nan retires next year.

Additional reporting by Jess Macy Yu; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Robert Birsel