Braving the rain on Thursday afternoon, a group of supporters gathered at Taipei’s Longshan Temple and welcomed President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) by chanting “Ma Ying-jeou, dong suan or “get elected” in Taiwanese (also known as Hoklo), as he gave out talismans to boost his election momentum.
Across the street from the temple, dozens of residents protested the visit, giving the thumbs-down gesture and chanting “Step down, Ma Ying-jeou.”
The mixed crowd of die-hard supporters and protesters has become a typical scene at almost every election campaign event Ma attends, as the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) star attraction struggles to keep ahead in the race against his main opponent, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文).
Having secured an overwhelming mandate with more than 7.6 million votes in the 2008 presidential election, Ma is facing a surprisingly tough battle in his re-election bid, because his popularity has fallen since taking office.
In a poll released yesterday by the Chinese-language United Daily News, Ma and his running mate, Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義), had a small lead in voter support over Tsai and her running mate, DPP -Secretary-General Su Jia-chyuan (蘇嘉全), at 41 percent versus 36 percent. However, support for the Ma-Wu ticket has fallen by 2 percent since the newspaper’s poll last month, while the Tsai-Su ticket gained 4 percent.
Another poll, released by TVBS on Friday, showed that Ma and Wu held a narrow advantage over Tsai and Su, at 39 percent versus 38 percent.
The poll also predicted that Tsai would receive 47.3 percent of the vote against Ma’s 45.8 percent, giving Tsai a lead in the station’s election poll, for the first time.
The falling support for and loss of confidence in Ma is not only reflected in polls, but also at campaign venues, where supporters and party members seem to be less passionate in voicing support for Ma and Wu.
When the two men launched their national campaign headquarters in Taipei last month, the KMT organized a street party with a national flag theme to celebrate the event.
While supporters cramped the main stage of the headquarters in front of the Bade Building, the crowd only stretched a block, in striking contrast to scenes at the official opening of Ma’s national campaign headquarters during the 2008 presidential election on Aiguo W Road, where supporters occupied several blocks with deafening cheers that lasted for the duration of the event.
Ma’s declining public support has also cost him popularity within the party, as many legislative candidates candidly voice their concerns about the election in the wake of the government’s poor performance.
At the KMT’s out-of-town Central Standing Committee, Ma met local members and supporters from around the nation and heard more criticism of government policy and his campaign strategy than ringing endorsements.
For example, the government’s latest policy on the monthly subsidy for elderly farmers, has drawn criticism from legislators, many of whom warned that increasing the subsidy by only NT$316 would have a negative impact on the elections.
KMT legislative candidate Chiu Yu-hsuan (邱于軒), who represents the KMT in Greater Kaohsiung, complained about the KMT’s poor mobilization efforts in campaigning for party candidates in the city so far, and said Ma should visit the pan-green stronghold more often.
Tsai’s latest “three little pigs” campaign, which stirred passions among pan-green supporters to make donations to the party, also raised concerns in the pan-blue camp.
Despite challenging the DPP over its use of children to promote the piggy bank donation activity, Ma’s camp started giving out “Taiwan talismans” to supporters to counter the DPP’s piggy bank donation strategy.
Deputy executive director of Ma’s campaign Lo Chih-chiang (羅智強) said the campaign office would distribute 100,000 talismans to supporters during campaign activities, and that the red talisman represented the president’s efforts to bring peace and prosperity to the people.
“The idea is to give blessings to the people and the talisman also serves as a reminder that the government must protect the people,” he said.
KMT spokesperson Lai Su-ju (賴素如) said the party took poll results as a serious warning sign for the presidential election. She also acknowledged that recent controversial policies and Cabinet performances had undermined support for Ma to some extent and said the KMT would have to obtain a large share of undecided voters in order win the election.
“We are facing a tough battle in the elections, and we cannot afford to make any mistakes. The president will make frequent trips to cities and counties and do more to better explain government policies to the people,” she said.
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