Attempting to consolidate support in pan-blue strongholds in the final days of the presidential election campaign, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) yesterday drew a passionate response in New Taipei City (新北市) and Hsinchu County, as residents lined up on the streets to cheer his motorcade.
His appearance at traditional markets also caused a stir.
Supporters crowded by the roadside to shake hands with the president, who is seeking re-election, or to take a photo of him, amid chants of “Re-elect Ma Ying-jeou!”
However, his momentum has been slowed by the lukewarm response he received in central and southern parts of the country.
During his motorcade campaign in Chiayi, Yunlin and Changhua counties on Saturday, cheering from residents who came out on the streets was sporadic at best.
In cities where the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) enjoys strong support, Ma was often confronted by supporters of DPP presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) who gave him the thumbs down or shouted: “Tsai Ing-wen dong suan [凍蒜, which means “get elected” in Taiwanese, also known as Hoklo].”
The progress of Ma’s motorcade was shadowed by numerous giant campaign bulletin boards featuring Tsai and local legislative candidates.
Even at the large-scale nighttime campaign party in Changhua on “Super Saturday,” for which the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) mobilized 50,000 supporters, the crowd did not fill the outdoor space across from Ma’s local campaign headquarters, with many seats left vacant.
Although campaign momentum and popularity at rallies do not necessarily reflect voter turnout, Ma’s loss of momentum is notable, especially compared with Tsai’s growing popularity, even in traditional pan-blue strongholds.
Ma obtained a solid victory in the presidential election four years ago against the DPP’s Frank Hsieh (謝長廷), defeating his opponent by 2 million votes.
However, he has faced a tough battle against Tsai since the beginning of his campaign.
Ma’s top aide, executive director of Ma’s re-election campaign office King Pu-tsung (金溥聰), said KMT internal polls suggested Ma has taken a steady lead over Tsai and said the camp would stick to its original campaign strategy in the final stage of the campaign.
The close race has caused concerns not only in Ma’s camp, but also among many pan-blue supporters.
Boonie Wu, a 54-year-old Taiwanese American who has returned to Taiwan to vote on Saturday, is one of the worried supporters.
Waving Ma campaign flags on Ketagalan Boulevard in Taipei at the campaign rally organized by Ma’s camp on Sunday, Wu said she and her friends felt the need to attend the event and show their support.
“I have confidence in President Ma, but me and my friends are quite nervous this time. It would be a lie if I said I am not worried,” she said.
Sunday’s rally in Taipei attracted more than 250,000 supporters, according to the KMT, who crowded Ketagalan Boulevard, and were eager to show their support for Ma as he struggled to stay ahead in the presidential campaign.
KMT spokesperson Lai Su-ju (賴素如) acknowledged that the presidential race is a challenging one, but said the great turnout on Sunday reflected a sense of crisis among pan-blue supporters in this election, which he hoped would translate into voter turnout on election day.