Taichung key battlefield for presidential poll
Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou will be thrown out of office if he fails to defend the Kuomintang's vote in its traditional stronghold of Taichung, analysts say.
Conventional analysis holds that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has been increasing its lead in southern Taiwan and that the KMT still has a solid lead in the north, making central Taiwan a potentially decisive battlefield for Saturday's presidential election.
Paul Lin, a Taipei-based political commentator, said recent surveys showed more support for DPP chairwoman Dr Tsai Ing-wen in central Taiwan - greater Taichung, Changhua county and Nantou county - than for Ma.
'I don't think it is a surprise because Tsai's running mate, Su Jia-chyuan, was defeated by KMT incumbent mayor Jason Hu Chih-chiang by a paper-thin margin of 2.24 per cent in 2010's Taichung municipal elections,' Lin said.
'Indeed, some surveys showed that many Taichung people voted for the KMT just because of the shooting incident, which helped the ruling party to win sympathy.'
On November 26, 2010 - the day before municipal elections - Lien Sheng-wen, the son of KMT honorary chairman Lien Chen, was shot in the head at close range during a campaign rally for a KMT city council candidate in Yungho, outside Taipei.
The five municipal elections in 2010 can be seen as a warm-up for this year's presidential election. The KMT barely held on to three areas it controlled - Taipei and Taichung cities and Taipei county, now renamed Xinbei city - with the battle in Taichung the most dramatic and controversial.
Lien Sheng-wen survived, but news of the shooting, plus an appeal by Lien Chan for voters to do their duty for the good of the island, moved some supporters.
With little influence in Taichung, Su surprised even fellow DPP politicians by posing a serious threat to Hu, a charismatic political veteran who had already served two terms as Taichung mayor before deciding to run for the post again when it was elevated to become one of Taiwan's five municipalities.
Lin said Su would have become mayor if not for the shooting incident.
Professor Chang Ling-chen, a political scientist at National Taiwan University, said Ma was also facing a challenge from James Soong Chu-yu, the head of the People First Party, who is well known in central Taiwan.
'Ma is definitely facing a tough battle in Saturday's presidential election because he not only has to deal with both Tsai and Su, but also Soong, who will definitely dilute Ma's share of the vote,' Chang said.
'Since Soong split from the KMT, those who support him are actually part of the pan-blue camp. But every vote he gains also means that Tsai wins one more.'
Taichung was Soong's power base when he was elected as Taiwan's provincial governor from 1994 to 1998 and he set up his provincial government office in neighbouring Nantou county. In the presidential election in 2000, Soong won 38 per cent of the vote in Taichung city and 41 per cent in Taichung county, which has since been merged into the municipality. Chang said that if Soong won more than 5 per cent of the vote in Taichung, it would deal a fatal blow to Ma.
Lin said a gang war between the so-called Red and Black triads, traditional supporters of the KMT, had caused upheaval in Taichung and made people unhappy with their KMT mayor.
'Just last week, a gang battle resulted in several residents burning to death at a night market in Taichung,' he said. 'Angry voters accused Mayor Hu of failing to ensure the city's stability and security.'
Lin said that, as a result, many traditional KMT supporters had decided to vote for Tsai.