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Talk of the Day -- KMT heavyweight speaks out

2014/02/11 17:02:47

Hau Lung-bin, the Taipei mayor who is widely regarded as a potential presidential candidate, gave a wide-ranging interview in which he said President Ma Ying-jeou should give up his position as chairman of the Kuomintang (KMT) if the party loses local elections in November.

In the interview published Tuesday by the China Times, a Chinese-language daily, Hau talked about the importance of economic issues in the elections and the need for wage growth in stimulating local economies.

He said the city would increase the hourly wage it pays to temporary and part-time workers by 16 percent to NT$133 (US$4.40) per hour, and he urged the central government to raise the minimum wage by nearly 25 percent from the current NT$19,047 (US$628) per month.

The following are excerpts of the interview and an analysis of Hau's remarks by the China Times:

The KMT will face extremely unfavorable odds in November unless progress is made in the government's efforts to revive the economy, Hau said, adding that the KMT would have no hope of winning the 2016 presidential election if it is defeated in this year's elections.

If the KMT were to lose, Ma should step down as party chairman, Hau said.

"Of course someone should take responsibility for losing," he said. "And taking responsibility means stepping down."

Hau pledged to do his best to campaign for KMT candidates in the next few months, taking time off from work if necessary, in order to help his party win the elections.

The Taipei mayor gave an optimistic assessment of Taichung Mayor Jason Hu's re-election bid, saying he has a chance to win if the KMT manages to pull its resources together and hold together as a team.

Hau, who cannot run for re-election because local leaders cannot serve more than two consecutive four-year terms, described the mayoral election to find his successor as "the strangest yet" in the capital.

He urged the KMT to pay attention to what he called "the Ko Wen-je phenomenon," referring to the opposition's likely candidate who has done well in opinion polls despite having no experience in politics.

In the interview, Hau saved his strongest criticism for the Cabinet as a team, calling its performance over the past year a "failure." He also expressed "utter disappointment" at the personnel shuffle announced last week, which involved only two changes, including the appointment of a new Cabinet spokesperson.

Problems with the various ministries' ability to communicate, coordinate, plan for the longer term and implement policies have been exposed by several controversies, Hau said, citing a proposed and later retracted nuclear referendum, the impasse in the Legislature over a trade in services agreement with China and the chaotic debut of the updated household registration system.

Without an overhaul, the Cabinet that has failed the public will find it difficult to persuade the people that it is capable of a better performance, Hau said.

The mayor also questioned the wisdom of working toward setting up a meeting between President Ma and China's president, Xi Jinping.

While such a summit between leaders across the Taiwan Strait would be helpful to the reconciliation and development of relations between the two sides, "such a meeting should not be held simply for the sake of the meeting," he said.

Ultimately, he said, working on the economy is more urgent than vying for one's legacy by pushing for a breakthrough in cross-strait relations.

Hau would not discuss in the interview what he will do after his second four-year term ends at the end of the year, despite rumors about a possible Cabinet post and presidential candidacy in 2016.

Hau's record as mayor is far from perfect. Some officials in the city government face corruption charges related to major construction projects undertaken during Hau's term.

But he is unique among politicians of his generation in that he alone has consistently advocated reconciliation between the two major parties and in fact served in the Cabinet when the Democratic Progressive Party was in power.

After handing over the keys to the mayor's office, Hau will be free to pursue his ambitions. At the moment, he is like an arrow on a fully drawn bow, waiting for the right moment to be fired.