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Constructing a crisis: candidates' last-minute appeals to voters

2014/11/27 20:28:38

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Taipei, Nov. 27 (CNA) With just two days left before voters across Taiwan select their mayors, magistrates and council members, candidates in the island's largest-scale election in history are pulling out the ultimate weapons in their arsenals: sounding the alarm.

Last-minute talk of "emergencies" and "saving candidates" are as common in Taiwanese politics as cheap-and-easy rice noodles are on the dinner table.

In elections that are so local, voters often know one or more of the candidates personally, which can split their allegiances. In the end, it may come down to "which candidate has more urgency," one old-timer told CNA.

Indeed, ads of this nature have taken over the airwaves and Internet media in the past several days, with one prominent mayoral candidate uploading a vision of an almost post-apocalyptic future if his popular opponent wins.

Candidates for city and county council have also been pleading for a last-minute boost with the name of party elders -- a move that the Democratic Progressive Party's Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen on Thursday said she does not condone.

All the same, a veteran city council candidate in Taoyuan said that letting voters think there is no crisis may cause them to feel their support is not needed and can cost an election.

"It doesn't matter if there really is an emergency or not -- you still have to tell people there is one," the candidate told CNA.

The tension, real or manufactured, is palpable from the text messages candidates are sending to voters' smartphones.

One candidate "is in trouble! Don't distribute your votes," one message said, undermining that very candidate's party's call for certain demographics of voters to support specific city council candidates in the party to evenly distribute support among them.

The unadorned warnings of candidates "in danger" or in need of "rescue" are a big departure from the carefully worded ads seen earlier on.

These direct calls from party officials and candidates to save their comrades who are trailing in the polls previously would not show up until late in the campaigns, but recent years have seen the big guns come out earlier.

Traditioanl Taiwanese campaigning comes in three stages, the first of which is marketing the candidate. He or she will early on begin distributing name cards, a list of political positions, posters, and pens and other gifts (all under a specified monetary value, of course).

The second phase comes after candidates have drawn the number that represents the order in which they appear on the ballot. This creates a need for new pens and posters that include that number as each candidate begins to go deeper into his or her beliefs and offers a more complete list of qualifications.

It was typically not until just before the polls opened that candidates switched on their "emergency modes" in a bid to remind the public of a civic duty to vote (and, naturally, to do so for the candidate making the plea).

But candidates now find that combining the second and third stages of campaigning saves time, effort and money. And where one candidate goes, others will follow.

"If others are issuing warnings and you're not," the Taoyuan council candidate warned in a message worthy of printing on a campaign poster, "voters will become lax and defect" to the more nervous candidate's camp.

(By Chiu Chun-chin and Wesley Holzer)