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'Little Ma' set to be Taiwan premier
Publication Date : 02-02-2013
Soft-spoken, collegial, physically fit and squeaky clean, incoming Taiwan premier Jiang Yi-huah is seen as a clone of President Ma Ying-jeou, one of "the King's men".
But the Yale-educated former political science professor, who at age 52 will be Taiwan's youngest premier since 1950 when he takes office next week, is also regarded as a political star, combining scholarly intelligence and meticulousness with rapier sharp wit, good people skills and local roots.
Take, for example, a sweeping - and painful - pension reform plan the now Deputy Premier had put together and which was unveiled by Ma on Wednesday - just one day before Jiang was confirmed to replace Premier Sean Chen in a late-night presidential press release.
The plan was hammered out with so much care and comprehensive consultation with members of the public, ruling and opposition legislators and government watchdogs, that the biggest gripe the opposition camp could muster was that Ma's offer to sacrifice part of his own pension was not part of the solution.
By comparison, Chen's year-old administration has been plagued by widespread resistance to policies due to inept communication and perceived high-handedness. Jiang, a taiji enthusiast, is expected to be a more agreeable lieutenant to Ma than "tough guy" Chen, who has publicly spoken in retort to his boss.
Jiang will be assisted by Mao Chi-kuo, the straight-talking, long-time Transport Minister credited with boosting Taiwan's tourism industry and multiplying the island's air links with the world.
The unpopular Economic Affairs Minister Shih Yen-hsiang and top economic planner Yiin Chii-ming will also step down.
But for now, the spotlight is on the man known as "Little Ma Ying-jeou". Since being plucked from academia by Ma to join the Cabinet in 2008 as minister for the Development and Evaluation Commission, Jiang has made diligence and thoroughness his hallmark.
As interior minister from 2009 to last year, he is credited with a number of popular policies like more funding for low-income and underprivileged groups and a preferential housing loan scheme for young Taiwanese.
In the face of controversy, such as his decision as newly minted interior minister to deny a visa to Rebiya Kadeer, the Uighur businesswoman fighting for Xinjiang's independence from China, Jiang has fended off criticism with gumption.
In reply to aggressive questioning by the opposition Democratic Progressive Party's own rising star, Lai Ching-te, in 2009 over his stand, Jiang had calmly retorted: "I have to correct what you said; we never said that Ms Rebiya was a terrorist."
He spelled out an article in an immigration Act that allows the barring of people who might "endanger Taiwan's national security and public order": "That's the article we are using, and not the one on terrorism."
Despite Jiang's strengths, his label as a Ma guy may hurt him given the President's low popularity among Taiwanese.
For now, though, his first challenge will be to shore up the economy, which shows signs of a rebound with 3.42 per cent growth in the fourth quarter last year.