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September 23, 2017

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Ma demands a miracle from Chen at economic crossroads

President Ma Ying-jeou has responded to public outrage at the government for lacking a remedy to salvage Taiwan's poor economy by giving Premier Sean Chen one month to make improvements.

The order is ridiculous. Chen has been in office for about seven months, during which he has been unable to improve the economy. How can we count on him to work miracles in just one month, particularly at a time when the global economy is showing no sign of rebounding?

If he succeeds in bringing substantial improvements to Taiwan's economy, the public would probably suspect that the premier and his Cabinet must have been procrastinating for the previous seven months.

Of course, what constitutes improvements has yet to be specified, so maybe a drop by a tiny fraction of a percentage point in the unemployment rate could be sufficient.

A repeat of the "22K" program — nicknamed after the monthly pay of NT$22,000 — could be an option, offering short-term employment to young people with government subsidies.

The 22K program was successful in doing a cosmetic job of boosting employment, but it never addressed the long-term problem facing a generation of young people whose future looks gloomy.

But short-term effects should be enough to save the premier and his Cabinet their jobs. And actually no specific commitment to quitting in the event of failure has been made by Cabinet officials.

The recent Cabinet reshuffle has only seen changes to officials handling cross-strait and foreign affairs, while the economic and financial team remains intact, despite lawmakers and critics vehemently calling for their heads.

Premier Chen has also survived a no-confidence vote, thanks to the ruling Kuomintang's majority control in the Legislature, and its lawmakers' willingness to toe the party line.

But how long can the premier and his ministers continue to stay in office? Some Kuomintang lawmakers have given them three months to improve the economy — slightly less demanding than Ma's one-month deadline.

Can we really expect anything significant to happen in one month, or in three months, except short-term improvements?

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