On television and in newspapers, it would seem Hualien County's voters are surfing a permanent wave of election hysteria. Cheering crowds and flag-waving supporters surge from campaign rally to political speech as Taipei's party heavyweights flock to the east coast to stump for their respective candidates.
Yet step away from campaign headquarters and the organized events and "election fever" is notable only for its absence. Newcomers to this remote part of the country would be forgiven for not knowing a county commissioner by-election is less than three days away.
"Many of us, of course, care about the by-election," said a cafeteria owner surnamed Wang when asked to comment on the county's seemly tepid electoral atmosphere. "But it is, after all, just a by-election and the majority here plainly treats it just like any other local event."
"All the heated scenes we see on TV are mainly generated by political parties and the big guns in Taipei," added Wang, whose store is located on Chungcheng Road in downtown Hualien.
With the by-election coming just a few months ahead of next year's presidential election, the run-off has been turned into a proxy battlefield for the pan-green and pan-blue camp's larger conflict. This has drawn a host of political luminaries from both the ruling and opposition parties to Hualien.
On Sunday, the last weekend before the election, President Chen Shui-bian (
A furniture dealer surnamed Lu told what happened when Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) visited Hualien last week to illustrate his point that politicians from Taipei are more fervent about the by-election than the local Hualien electorate.
Ma was in Hualien last Friday campaigning for Hsieh. When he accompanied Hsieh in a street procession in downtown Hualien, Ma was surrounded by female bypassers who eagerly wanted to shake his hand, Lu said.
"Given the location and purpose of the street procession, people watching on TV probably would have thought to themselves that the women must be excited Hualien voters," Lu said. "The truth was the women were actually tourists from Taipei."
Lu said political stars stumping for their respective candidates are unlikely to influence the Hualien electorate in choosing their candidate on Saturday.
"Many of us already know who we want to vote for," Lu said. "The visits of the political big guns from Taipei serve their own party interest more than influencing our decision over which candidate to support."
Not all Hualien residents complained about the extra media attention the county has received.
Saying that the by-election has greatly boosted the county's visibility, many Hualien residents reacted positively to the visits of top political figures and were happy that the exposure has helped attract tourists to Hualien.
"Because of the election and political importance politicians have attached to it, almost every media group in the country now has daily stories flashing the word `Hualien,'" said a young clothes-store clerk surnamed Sun.