A sea of red and blue confronted those exiting near Aozidi Park, where masses of supporters waved banners and wore regalia emblazoned with the Republic of China (ROC) flag. Vendors hawked everything from plush toys of Han Kuo-yu to shirts, hats, banners, and coats for dogs.
The atmosphere was convivial as fans, amid blaring music and airhorns, chanted slogans such as “Dong suan Han Kuo-yu!” (Vote for Han Kuo-yu!) and sang along to familiar campaign songs. The march began at 1.11pm (the date of next year’s presidential election) along a trail in Kaohsiung’s Gushan District that led to Smile Park.
Han took to the main stage to thank his supporters at the end of the march, foregoing his initial plan to lead it due to safety concerns.
As expected, the crowd was typically much older than that at the southern rally to remove Han from office, with middle-aged and elderly revelers making up the majority of the parade. There were notably some younger attendees, however, openly professing support for Han.
One major difference between Saturday’s march and previous smaller rallies was the majority of people appeared to have arrived of their own accord, rather than being bused in from surrounding areas. Although many people I spoke to were from Kaohsiung, some had made the trip from other parts of Taiwan. One woman explained that she had spent almost NT$3,000 on a return high-speed rail ticket to go to Kaohsiung and support Han.
The rally, and Han’s campaign in general, appeared to have incensed people previously disinterested in politics. Everyone I interviewed said it was imperative to vote, saying it is up to the people to decide the future of Taiwan.
The crowds in Kaohsiung’s north and south have very different ideas of Taiwan’s ideal future.
“This is actually my first time voting,” said Wu Jia-lin, a 60-year-old homemaker from Taoyuan. “I’ve never voted or cared about politics before, but I’ve been following Han for a while because I care about our government now.”
“Tsai Ing-wen has spent too much time and money on things that do not benefit the people, like reopening the coal plant,” Wu said, referencing the Shen’ao coal fired plant which Tsai’s administration had planned to expand before shelving the project under pressure.
The majority of those interviewed believed Kaohsiung has changed for the better under Han Kuo-yu, with only one remaining skeptical.
Peixuan, a 35-year-old who works for a shipping company, said she believes air quality and tourist numbers have improved over the past year. Two respondents believed Han had taken adequate measures to ensure flooding was not as serious as previous years, despite flooding in parts of the city causing him to cancel a Taichung campaign stop in July.
Attendees were unabashed in criticizing the incumbent president. I was approached by several people who told me they believe Tsai’s doctorate degree “is fake” and that she needs to be removed from office. One went as far as to suggest Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) had bought media influence to smear the Han campaign, an allegation gaining popularity among KMT supporters despite a lack of evidence to support it.
“I think Tsai has paid the media to frame Han with scandals,” said A-xuan, a 37-year-old hair stylist.
He also expressed skepticism at Beijing’s reported media disinformation campaign targeting the Tsai administration and the ruling DPP.
“The internet in Taiwan has only been infiltrated by [Tsai’s] 1450 army,” he said—a term used to describe pro-DPP internet trolls by the opposition. “If such a large and powerful country as China wanted to take over Taiwan, it could do it in a matter of days, so why would they need to permeate the media? It makes no sense.”
Everyone I talked to did agree on one thing: The presidential polls are unreliable. Han has called on his supporters to stop participating in public opinion polls, an apparent effort to call them into question as they consistently show Tsai surge ahead.
“The polls are completely made up,” Zhang said. “Just by looking around you now you can tell they are untrustworthy.”
Paul, a 43-year-old from Taipei, insisted that polls could be easily obscured or manipulated “just like the news.”
Everyone I interviewed, aside from one person who said they were unsure who to vote for but would like to give Han a chance, identified themselves as “citizens of the Republic of China” rather than as Taiwanese. Many stated this was an “obvious fact.”
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