Exhausted Ma enters the DPP's den in last-ditch bid for backing
'I'm Taiwanese! Taiwan will surely win!' Kuomintang presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou chanted in a hoarse voice last night to thousands of supporters who converged on an election-eve rally in Kaohsiung - a traditional Democratic Progressive Party stronghold.
'If I'm elected, I will make Kaohsiung even better than Taipei,' the former Taipei mayor said, to huge applause from supporters who jumped to their feet and waved KMT flags amid deafening fireworks at the Kaohsiung Dream Mall square.
In the powerbase of his DPP rival, Frank Hsieh Chang-ting, Mr Ma received roars of support from those hoping for another victory to follow the KMT's resounding win in January's legislative elections.
Seizing his last few chances to score campaign points, the Hong Kong-born candidate, whose loyalty and policies towards Taiwan have been questioned, gave assurances he would protect the island's labour market and explained his cross-strait common market idea.
'We don't need policies that are just foolish and idiotic,' Mr Ma yelled, referring to criticism levelled against him by the DPP.
Emotions ran high in the crowd, with supporters chanting: 'Ma Ying-jeou will surely win!'
With whistles blowing, Mr Ma waved a fist in the air, shouting: 'Taiwan will move forward! Please support a change of political parties!'
Holding three KMT flags, accountant Hsueh Chiu-fang, 47, was among the supporters who rushed to the rally after work to give her support to Mr Ma.
'I've had enough of the DPP after eight years,' she said.
But Ms Hsueh was not sure whether Mr Ma would win.
'If the DPP does not play dirty tricks, I'm sure Ma will win. But they have played so many dirty tricks already,' she said.
And she was not alone.
Yang Min-lang, vice-secretary general of the KMT presidential election headquarters in Kaohsiung, said Mr Ma chose the night rally in Kaohsiung as the second last venue of his election-eve campaigning, before moving on to Taichung, because of a sense of crises.
'All the attacks by Hsieh's camp, such as how they portrayed Ma's economic policy as a 'one-China' market, the Tibet crisis and the fact that the subway system in Kaohsiung is on a month-long free run have all had a negative impact on our campaign,' Mr Yang said.
He said voters in southern Taiwan, especially those in Kaohsiung, were traditionally pro-DPP.
'Ma Ying-jeou has never held any official positions here, and he could not boast any accomplishment here compared with Mr Hsieh, who was former Kaohsiung mayor,' Mr Yang said. 'So people may not trust him easily.
'But Kaohsiung is simply too important. Because if we win here - or I should say, if we lose less - we will win the election.'
In the 2004 presidential election, the DPP incumbent, Chen Shui-bian, received 500,000 votes in Kaohsiung to 400,000 for Lien Chan.
The Hsieh camp has claimed it can beat Mr Ma by 150,000 votes in Kaohsiung today. While Mr Hsieh spent most of his time in central Taiwan - the key battlefield in the election - Mr Chen has visited Kaohsiung as well as his hometown, Tainan, to help Mr Hsieh.
Waving to hordes of supporters who had gathered at Kaohsiung's Hanmin Road, where his motorcade parade kicked off yesterday morning, Mr Chen led the chanting of 'DPP! DPP!' and said: 'In 2004, we won by 100,000 votes in Kaohsiung city. This time we have to win by 150,000 votes!'
Hsu Jen-tu, director of Mr Hsieh's election headquarters in Kaohsiung, said yesterday their campaign strategy - 'exposing the falsehood of Ma Ying-jeou underneath his honest appearance' - had worked, especially in southern Taiwan. He said that had allowed Mr Hsieh to spend more time canvassing in areas such as Taichung and Taipei in the latter stages of the campaign.
Huang Yi-feng, a DPP supporter in Kaohsiung, said he was confident Mr Hsieh would win. 'That's because Ma Ying-jeou flip-flops on issues all the time,' he said.