Taiwan's premier resigned Monday amid strong criticism of the government's slow response to the most devastating storm to hit the island in 50 years, and the president immediately named a senior official from the ruling party to replace him.
Liu Chao-shiuan said he was leaving office because his Cabinet had completed the initial stage of rehabilitation work after Typhoon Morakot slammed into the island Aug. 8-9 and left an estimated 670 people dead.
"I have completed my duties at this phase," said Liu, who has held his post since Ma Ying-jeou became president in May 2008.
Liu's move sets the stage for the entire Cabinet to resign. Liu said that would happen Thursday.
Ma named Nationalist Party Secretary General Wu Den-yih, 61, to replace Liu.
Wu is a veteran lawmaker with a reputation as a skilled political maneuverer. He previously served eight years as mayor of Kaohsiung — Taiwan's second largest city — and before that was chief executive of Nantou county, also in the south of the island.
Wu's nomination by the president does not require approval from Taiwan's legislature.
Wu said he will name new Cabinet members in a few days after discussing the lineup with Ma.
"We will unite and strive with our best efforts to shoulder the difficult task ahead," he told reporters.
Another former lawmaker, Chu Li-lun, 48, was named by Ma as vice-premier. Chu has served as chief executive of Taoyuan county in suburban Taipei since 2001.
Hard hit by global financial crisis
Presidential spokesman Wang Yu-chi said Chu, who has a background in finance and business management, could oversee the island's economic development, which has been hard hit by the global financial crisis.
Wu, an elected official experienced in local politics, could complement Ma, a legal expert by training who is often seen as being distant and aloof, said Shih Cheng-feng, a political scientist with National Dong Hwa University.
"Wu could help ease mounting grievances about the rescue effort, but he might not implement bold reforms that could be seen as a threat to Ma," Shih said.
Typhoon Morakot, which dumped three feet (one meter) of rain in some locations, triggered massive flooding and mudslides in and around some 40 villages in southern Taiwan.
Critics blamed the heavy casualties on government inefficiency, saying authorities should have ordered residents in the area to evacuate their homes long before the storm hit. The government has also come under criticism for rejecting initial offers of foreign aid and for failing to immediately deploy troops to help with rescue operations.
Opinion polls in Morakot's wake showed support for Ma and Liu plunging to below 20 percent — a drop of 20-30 points in only a matter of months. Even Ma's Nationalist allies demanded a Cabinet reshuffle, acknowledging overwhelming public unease with the government.
Liu said Monday that most of the 7,000 people who lost their homes in the storm have been resettled at military camps and other temporary shelters.
The Cabinet has earmarked 100 billion New Taiwan dollars ($3 billion) for reconstruction work and will build 1,000 homes for the storm survivors with the help of a charity group and electronics maker, Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., he said.
Ma had stood firmly by Liu's side despite continuing criticism that the Cabinet failed to implement many of its policies promptly and efficiently.
But the storm raised serious questions about Ma's leadership and his apparent failure to name more capable Cabinet members.