Tsai Ing-Wen

Ma on final crusade for votes

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 13 January, 2012, 12:00am

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With the election just a day away, Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou has been criss-crossing the island in a last-ditch effort to widen his projected lead and secure himself a second term.

The bitter and close battle with his major challenger, Dr Tsai Ing-wen of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party, has been in stark contrast with the easy run-up Ma had four years ago when voters - sick of graft-tainted then-president Chen Shui-bian - willingly handed him their ballots.

Some voters have cited disillusionment as one of the major reasons why Ma is fighting a tough battle, as those who used to support him are now shying away or opting to give their votes to another of his challengers, James Soong Chu-yu, whose People First Party belongs to the pan-blue camp led by Ma's Kuomintang (KMT).

Sean Chang, a personal trainer at a popular gym in Taipei, said Ma struck him 'as one who often procrastinates and lacks the quality of being a strong leader'.

Chang said he gave Ma his vote four years ago and was very excited when he captured close to 60 per cent of the ballots to win the island's presidency.

'But this time, I won't vote for him, nor will I vote for either Tsai or Soong,' Chang said, noting that his disenchantment with the candidates would keep him away from the polls this year.

He said crisis management had been one of Ma's biggest shortfalls, making him unqualified to be president.

'Shortly after the [Typhoon] Morakot disaster, I felt that he could, at most, do a better job as mayor than president,' Chang said, referring to the storm that caused widespread flooding and killed more than 650 people in August 2009.

Ma's government was sharply blamed for its slow response and mishandling of the incident, and Ma was also criticised for the way he responded to the disaster.

'TV footage of his awkward responses to victims' families left me with a big question mark about his management and crisis-handling abilities,' Chang said.

Asked if the economy was another reason why some voters were disillusioned with Ma, Chang said: 'I don't think he has done poorly in this area, given that Taiwan is relatively safe, economically, in the midst of the global recession.'

He said Ma was too soft in tackling domestic political issues, and this made him unsuitable to be a strong leader.

Security guard Wang Wei-po, who also voted for Ma in 2008, said the president 'flip-flopped' easily when facing mounting criticism.

'I just don't understand why he would back off so easily, given that he has a strong parliament to back him,' Wang said, referring to the KMT-dominated Legislative Yuan.

Wang said he was greatly displeased by Ma's revised stance over a peace pact he suggested signing with the mainland three months ago.

'This is a big thing, a good proposal for the sake of the public, but he just swiftly added things to limit the possibility of the peace pact, all because the pro-independence camp accused him of setting a unification timetable for the mainland,' Wang said.

Ma offered the proposal in October as part of his 'golden decade' national platform, but a few days later he promised to hold a referendum before signing any peace agreement with the mainland, and stressed that his administration would also forgo such a pact if Beijing failed to accept his 'three-nos' policy - no unification, no independence and no use of force.

'For this, I will give my ballot to Soong, who has been consistent in his cross-strait policy,' Wang said. Soong is also running under a mainland-friendly campaign platform.

While some voters have become disillusioned with the way Ma has led the government, there are some who used to support the pro-independence camp who say they will vote for him because of the business interests they have gained through warming cross-strait relations.

'Because of Ma's engagement policy, the mainland has offered to buy a lot of our farming and fishing products, allowing us to enjoy quite a bit of business interest,' said 62-year-old farmer Yang Tsai-fa, who lives in Yunlin county in southwestern Taiwan.

'I hope to retain this benefit, so I will give my ballot to Ma,' Yang said, adding, however, that five of his family members would still vote for the pro-independence camp represented by Tsai.

Meanwhile, a number of businesspeople, including Terry Guo, chairman of the Hon Hai Group, which has done business on the mainland, have declared their support for Ma.

Guo and some other business leaders have even offered to contract charter flights to bring their Taiwanese employees back to Taiwan to vote for Ma.