Rallies are added attraction for scarce mainland visitors
The queue for the lift to the observation deck of the landmark Taipei 101 building in the Taiwanese capital was exceptionally short yesterday because most mainland tour groups were banned from visiting Taiwan during the election campaign.
'On a normal day it would have taken 40 minutes to queue up for the elevator for the 89th floor because it is usually packed with mainland Chinese tourists,' a guide leading a group of Japanese tourists said.
'But for the past three weeks, they were told not to come so as not to affect the election result. That is why it is half empty here.'
For the most part, the few mainland tourists in Taiwan have enjoyed the fevered campaigning for the presidential and legislative elections.
'All my tour members are very interested in watching television news reports about Taiwan's elections,' Shirley Li, a tour leader from Tianjin , said at a Kaohsiung hotel.
She has been escorting a group of mainland tourists in Taiwan since last Sunday and said she had discouraged them from getting too close to election campaign activities, especially rallies.
'We don't want to make Taiwan people unhappy, as they are so sensitive about mainlanders during the election period,' she said.
Li said tour group members said they felt 'very lucky to experience and witness the Taiwan election'.
They will leave the island today.
'We found the election culture and style in Taiwan are so different from our elections for village party heads on the mainland, which is something worth studying for both mainland people and the authorities,' Li said.
A retired Beijing teacher in his 80s said in Taipei yesterday that he was impressed by the Taiwanese people's commitment to elections and how they treasured their political rights.
'The people here want to be their own masters,' he said.
'They want to exercise their democratic rights and they feel that they are the masters of Taiwan.'
He went to a polling station with his tour guide yesterday morning because the guide wanted to vote before starting work.
'It is so good that people here treasure their right to exercise their choices. It is really good,' he said. 'Not long ago, I was told to cast a vote for the cadres of the street Communist Party committee in the area where I live. But that was something totally different from the election here.'
However, Wang Mingwang, an official from a district government in Jinan , Shandong , was not that impressed - although he watched the rallies on television with interest.
'Why gather hundreds of thousands of people here and there? What is the point? It causes such disturbance to production and it costs so much,' he said. 'Think of the production sacrificed for the election campaigns and the money spent, think of the petrol consumed to get so many people to the rallies, what is the point?'
Tang Yu and Qiang Na, a couple from Zhejiang who are honeymooning in Taiwan, said they had been surprised by Taiwan's election culture.
'It's been amazing for both of us to personally witness Taiwanese election fever on the streets,' Qiang, the bride said. 'But I don't think the mainland is ready for such a totally Western-style democratic election.'
But Li Qiguan and his wife Liao Shuchun, from Changsha , Hunan said they envied Taiwanese people for their right to elect their own leaders.
'One person, one vote, it's very fair, but we don't have such a right on the mainland,' Li, 82, said, adding that their daughter, who married a Taiwanese man 12 years ago, also had the right to vote.
Liao, 74, said they had planned their trip for election week to witness Taiwan's presidential campaign.
'I love Taiwan because people here enjoy real democracy and freedom,' she said. 'The economy on the mainland is good, but there's no political freedom.'
While no groups of mainland academics were sent to Taiwan to officially observe the election, some mainland scholars travelled to Taiwan individually for their own for research purposes.
One, a political science professor, said he was most interested in the psychology and mindset of voters when they made decisions. He said Taiwanese democracy had become more mature, with supporters from both camps behaving more 'rationally' in this election campaign.
'The voters are more rational than before and they are less emotional,' he said. 'That's why both parties [the Kuomintang and the Democratic Progressive Party] tend to take a middle-of-the-road approach in their policy appeals to voters. 'It's good because if voters are rational in their choice of president, they will also be more rational when it comes to cross-strait relations.'
Michael Lin, general director of the Kaohsiung Hotel Association, said the fall in the number of mainland tourists was also due to a shortage of charter flights.
'The mainland tourists have had to make way for tens of thousands of Taiwanese businessmen and their relatives returning home to vote and for the Lunar New Year,' Lin said. 'This year's election day is so close to the Lunar New Year, and there aren't enough charter flights to send mainland-based Taiwanese home, even though more than 100 flights have shuttled across the Taiwan Strait every day since Wednesday.'