He’s back: Ma Ying-jeou rebuilds his popularity – might another run for Taiwan’s presidency be in store?

by Lawrence Chung/ 6 May 2018/ SCMP

Thousands of supporters packed a night market in Hualien in eastern Taiwan last month to try to get a glimpse of Ma Ying-jeou, the island’s former president.

Passionate fans even formed a queue at least 200 metres long to shake hands or have their photos taken with the ex-leader, who twice visited the city to show concern soon after a 6.4-magnitude earthquake wrecked Hualien in early February, killing 17 people and injuring 290 others.

Wearing a dark blue lightweight jacket with a hood, Ma busily worked the crowd. Some fans said they had been waiting for hours to see him.

“If I were able to shake hands with him, I would not have washed my hand for three days,” a female supporter said.

Three other fans being pushed by the crowd to one side screamed with joy when Ma unexpectedly stretched out his arm for handshakes with them, all while calling for more efforts to help revive tourism in Hualien.

“This is the first time I have seen our business rebounded a month after the earthquake,” said a vendor who gave only his last name, Wang. “The ex-president has brought us the business,” he said, echoing the appeal made by other supporters for Ma to stage a comeback.

In fact, words of encouragement, urging him to run in the 2020 presidential election, have become increasingly vocal since Ma made an overnight visit to Kaohsiung, the pro-independence home base, for a predawn “Republic of China” flag-raising ceremony to greet the start of the year of 2018. Supporters have echoed the appeal in other places around Taiwan, including temples and schools that he visited.

Even politicians running for the year-end local polls have tried to have Ma pose with them in photographs, as a sign of getting Ma’s support for their year-end bids – a stark contrast to the time when a handshake with Ma meant a grasp of death or a photo op with the ex-leader appeared an act of political suicide.

All of a sudden, it seems, Ma has regained his popularity – which once sank to a low of a mere 9 per cent approval rating in 2013, during his second term as president.

“Tsai Ing-wen should take the credit for boosting Ma Ying-jeou,” a blogger, Sun Wei-lun, wrote last month about why Ma had regained his popularity. “What she has been doing has made Ma look much better” in terms of administration, he said, a reference to the lacklustre performance of President Tsai, her government and the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) she leads. Read more…

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