As first lady Chow Mei-ching (周美青), known for rarely appearing at political events, started campaigning for President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) this month, a new call for support of Ma as a strategic move to keep Chow in the Presidential Office has emerged in the pan-blue camp.
The idea was first proposed by poet Yu Kuang-chung (余光中) in response to recent disputes over Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) vice presidential candidate Su Jia-chyuan’s (蘇嘉全) wife, Hung Heng-chu (洪恆珠), for her appearance at a birthday party featuring male strippers almost a decade ago.
Hung’s attendance at the party, revealed through a video tape by Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Chiu Yi (邱毅), sparked discussion about the behavior of political spouses in public.
Without commenting too much on Hung’s demeanor, Yu praised Chow for her plain and simple style, asking: “Does the public really want a new first lady?”
The Chinese-language United Daily News, a pro-blue newspaper, echoed Yu’s comments in its editorial and slammed Hung for attending a “wild party,“ suggesting that she could precipitate scandals if her husband were elected vice president.
The Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) Greater Kaohsiung branch picked up on the idea and turned the proposal into an election campaign activity on Saturday by inviting a group of female supporters to show their support for Chow. Rather than calling for support of Ma, they urged voters to support Ma’s re-election bid because “we do not want a new first lady.”
Such comments are clearly aimed at promoting Chow by portraying Hung as a self-indulgent political wife with a luxurious lifestyle. First, whether Hung’s attendance at the birthday party was inappropriate is debatable, as she did not know about the male stripper performance in advance.
The real irony in this new call is that by stressing the merits of Chow and making her the main attraction in the election campaign, it highlighted Ma’s sliding momentum and his failure to sustain support after a landslide victory in the 2008 presidential election.
Indeed, Chow’s popularity and influence should not be underestimated, as several polls released by local media outlets showed that more than 50 percent of Taiwanese said they were satisfied with Chow’s performance as first lady, and that she established a name for integrity, austerity and independence with her low-key demeanor and focus on charity work.
However, this is the presidential election, and the nation is choosing its leader among the three candidates, not their spouses. Voters should be comparing the campaign platforms of the candidates and weighing their choices as they closely watch the performance of the candidates.
In promoting the idea of voting for Ma for the sake of keeping Chow as first lady, one cannot help but wonder whether Ma’s camp and the KMT have become desperate, with Ma’s poor performance leaving them with no choice but to play the “first lady card.”
As Chow said when Ma was elected Taipei mayor in 1998, “people elect the mayor, not the mayor’s wife.”
She made it clear back then that as a political wife, she would not interfere with Ma’s public affairs and affect his decisions.
A presidential spouse’s traits, lifestyle and behavior may be important for building an image for the first family, but should not influence the president in his or her judgement on government policies or affect the public’s voting.
For voters, Chow’s remarks serve as a sharp reminder that they are electing a president, not a first lady. And the question we should be asking is: Do we want a president who has to rely on his wife’s popularity when seeking re-election?
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