In view of the combined presidential and legislative elections on Saturday, an assessment from the pan-blue camp posits that using the presidential candidate to boost the election chances of legislative candidates from the same party is an important strategy.
However, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), who is seeking re-election, seems to have gone a different way from the KMT legislative candidates. This comes amid talk of alleged discontent with the Ma administration’s performance and his campaign’s emphasis on the presidential election over the legislative polls.
The KMT’s guiding principle of “Ma First” can clearly be seen in Hualien, Taitung and the outlying islands, where pan-blue candidates are participating in the legislative elections against the wishes of the party central and caused fractures within the KMT.
In Taitung County, the KMT’s party central had attempted to persuade KMT-nominated legislative candidate Rao Ching-ling (饒慶鈴) to back out of the elections after KMT internal polls were held. Even Legislative Spekaer Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) was dispatched to persuade her after independent candidate Wu Chun-li (吳俊立) announced his wish to run for the county’s lone legislative seat.
When negotiations failed after Rao insisted on participating in the elections, the first campaign event Wang attended was for Wu and not for Rao.
Observers said this happened because the Ma faction in the KMT, to which Rao belonged, felt that she should take into account the whole picture and since Ma would need votes for his presidential bid no matter which side won, the Ma faction made the decision not to alienate anyone. This included sending Wang to stump for Wu as a “favor.”
On the other hand, others have said that there have been other legislative candidates who have been trying to avoid Ma early in the campaign period, especially in central and southern Taiwan, where Ma’s political achievements have been perceived as minor, even prior to Ma’s insistence on not raising elderly farmers’ monthly subsidies by NT$1,000.
According to anonymous sources, several legislative candidates in Greater Kaohsiung have cut ties with Ma, while some have told the president’s re-election campaign when Ma should go stump for them and that he needn’t appear if he was only going to canvas for them once just to “show that he got his feet wet.”
Between August and October last year, the campaign’s middle period, the KMT began subsidizing the party’s legislative candidates who put up billboards with pictures of them with Ma at NT$10,000 per sign, to a maximum of NT$100,000.
However, it was observed that legislative candidates in central and southern regions were not overly enthusiastic about the idea and even some of the more notable candidates took tens of millions in subsidies without putting up the billboards, causing Ma’s chief campaign manager to personally place telephone calls and criticize their moves.
With the campaign entering its final days in the run-up to Saturday’s elections, Ma is canvassing for votes nationwide as well as trying to boost the profiles of his party’s legislative candidates, especially in areas where progress is slowing or those that still have a chance of winning.
However, it appears that for most KMT legislative candidates, they know that the Ma campaign headquarters is still adhering to the “Ma First” principle and that they will essentially have to rely on themselves to attract votes.