2012 ELECTIONS: FEATURE: Ma camp shifts focus to challenging areas

By Mo Yan-chih  /  Staff Reporter

Mon, Dec 19, 2011 - Page 3

With the presidential election less than a month away, President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) re-election camp will focus their election campaign on the challenging areas of central and southern Taiwan, Ma campaign organizers said.

Touting the government’s performance will remain the main campaign strategy for Ma and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) to attract voter support, they added.

Ma is scheduled to attend large campaign rallies in Greater Kao-hsiung, Greater Tainan and Greater Taichung in the final weekends before the election to boost his momentum in areas where the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has traditionally enjoyed more support.

He will also embark on “home-stay” trips this month to Taoyuan, Hsinchu and Miaoli counties, visiting local markets and staying overnight in Hakka communities to consolidate support in the party’s strongholds.

The deputy executive director of Ma’s campaign office, Lo Chih-chiang (羅智強), said the camp was adopting a “start-over” strategy in the final stage of the election campaign, fighting the presidential race as it did in the beginning. The president, he said, would continue to emphasize the government’s performance and present policy platforms, as well as his determination to reform the nation.

“Explaining government policies and goals will continue to be the core of our campaign. People want to hear more details about candidates’ platforms and want to know which candidate would solve problems for them. We will let them know that President Ma is their best choice,” he said.

Ma, 61, won the presidential election in 2008 against the DPP’s Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) with more than 7.6 million votes against Hsieh’s 5.4 million.

The landslide victory and his performance in the past three years, however, do not appear to be giving him him much of an advantage in his re-election bid.

Polls have showed Ma fighting a neck-and-neck battle with DPP presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) since she announced her candidacy in April. In the latest poll released by the Chinese-language Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister newspaper) on Friday, Ma took a small lead over Tsai, garnering 34.5 percent support versus Tsai’s 33.26 percent.

In another poll recently released by the Chinese-language United Daily News, Ma led Tsai by a margin of 7 percent, with 42 percent support versus Tsai’s 35 percent.

An anonymous KMT official acknowledged that Ma is facing a tough campaign against Tsai and People First Party (PFP) Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜), and attributed the unexpected challenges in the presidential race to the government’s failure to make its achievements apparent to the public.

Seeking to attract voter support through policies, the president outlined his “Golden Decade” platform in September and proposed to sign a peace agreement with China within the next decade.

The proposed peace agreement sparked concerns over the possibility of political negotiations with Beijing during Ma’s second term if he is re-elected. His support declined after he raised the cross-strait issue.

The campaign strategy of Ma’s camp soon shifted from the discussion of cross-strait policies to domestic issues, including farmers’ pensions and social welfare measures. Ma’s camp also initiated attacks against Tsai over the low price of local fruits published in her campaign flyers, her alleged manipulation of the National Development Fund’s investments and profiteering in an investment deal involving Yu Chang Biologics Co, now known as TaiMed Biologics Co, during her term as vice premier in 2007.

Commenting on the Ma camp’s campaign strategy, political analyst Shih Cheng-feng (施正鋒) of National Dong Hwa University said the Yu Chang case and other negative campaign tactics against Tsai and the DPP would not have too much of an impact on the outcome of the presidential election.

Instead, the use of smear tactics could hurt Ma and the KMT in their efforts to get support from undecided voters, he said.

“The problem with these negative campaign tactics is that Ma and the KMT are having trouble convincing people [to vote for them] because of poor government performance. It is interesting that as the ruling party with rich government resources, the KMT initiated most of the attacks in this campaign, while the DPP has been relatively low-key and trying to play it safe,” he said.

The Ma administration’s promotion of cross-strait developments as a major achievement, including the signing of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement, for example, is only appealing to business groups, and the proposed peace agreement with China had a negative impact even within the pan-blue camp, he said.

Shih added that in the final stage of the campaign, Ma’s camp should not ignore Soong’s influence and the potential of splitting the vote in the pan-blue camp.

Calling for strategic voting among pan-blue voters and getting support from PFP supporters remained a crucial strategy for the camp, he said.

Ma campaign spokesperson Lee Chia-fei (李佳霏) said that in addition to seeking public recognition of the government’s performance in reviving the economy and maintaining peace across the Taiwan Strait, as well as the “Golden Decade” policy platform, the camp would focus its final efforts on attracting support among undecided voters, in which first-time voters accounted for a significant percentage, while avoiding a split in votes caused by Soong’s participation in the presidential race.

While defending government policies, Ma would not hesitate to refute any negative campaigning from the DPP, she said.