Taiwan's Tsai Taps Former Boss to Rebuild Ahead of 2020 Election

(Bloomberg) -- Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen turned to a seasoned campaigner -- and her former boss -- to serve as premier as she seeks to build a new administration just 12 months away from the presidential election.

Su Tseng-chang, 71, was named as premier after Lai Ching-te stepped down along with the rest of his cabinet Friday, in the latest fallout from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party’s heavy defeat to the China-friendly Kuomintang in local elections in November. Su’s first task will be to appoint a new cabinet that can win back public support.

Taiwan's Tsai Taps Former Boss to Rebuild Ahead of 2020 Election

In his first comments after the reshuffle, Su cited a saying often attributed to the U.K.’s wartime prime minister, Winston Churchill: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal.” He also dismissed concerns about his advanced age, noting that Churchill returned for a second stint just before his 77th birthday.

Although the role of premier turns over frequently in Taiwan’s presidential-led political system, a new cabinet adds to the challenges facing Tsai. Amid the trade war between the U.S. and China -- Taiwan’s two largest trading partners -- Chinese President Xi Jinping has ratcheted up the pressure, calling in a speech last week for talks leading to the eventual unification of both sides. Tsai rejects China’s claims to sovereignty over Taiwan.

“Su was chosen to restore confidence in the administration,” said Andrew Yang, former defense minister and secretary general of the Taipei-based Chinese Council of Advanced Policy Studies. “He has administrative experience, he’s an efficient policy decision maker and is an experienced campaigner.”

A member of former President Chen Shui-bian’s administration, Su ran an unsuccessful campaign to be mayor of New Taipei City in November. Tsai was his deputy when he served as premier between 2006 and 2007.

Su is Tsai’s third premier in her two-and-a-half years as president. The average tenure of a Taiwanese premier has been 16 months since the island’s first democratic elections in 1996.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.