Jan. 8 (Bloomberg) -- Taiwan’s presidential candidates plan to rally their supporters across the island nation today on the final weekend before the Jan. 14 election.
“It’s the final leg of the race, we want to boost morale and win more support,” Yin Wei, a spokesman for President Ma Ying-jeou’s campaign office, said in an interview on Jan. 6. Opposition Democratic Progressive Party Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen hopes to rally at least 10,000 people, Chang Chih-hao, a DPP spokesman, said.
Ma, 61, the ruling Kuomintang party leader seeking a second four-year term, is running against the DPP’s Tsai amid slowing growth, a stock market slump, near-record home prices and stagnant wages.
Tsai, 55, Taiwan’s first woman presidential candidate, has focused on domestic issues and criticizing the pace of Ma’s push to forge closer economic links with China, avoiding talk of independence during her campaign.
The issue of closer ties with China dominated a Jan. 6 debate among candidates, the last held before the election on the island of 23 million people.
“Most people don’t feel the immediate benefits of the improved China-Taiwan relations that Ma has achieved,” said Chang Wu-ueh, a professor of political science at Taipei’s Tamkang University. “They care about jobs and domestic issues.”
The Taiex stock index tumbled 21 percent last year, its worst year since 2008, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The index ended up 0.7 percent in the first week of the year. The Taiwan dollar strengthened 0.1 percent to NT$30.245 against its U.S. counterpart at close of trading on Jan. 6, according to Taipei Forex Inc.
Ma’s rallies will start at 2:30 p.m. in the capital, Taipei, Taichung, Hualien and in the eastern coastal town of Taitung, according to his campaign office. Supporters of Tsai will gather in southern city of Tainan in the morning, and at two afternoon rallies in central Taiwan, while Taipei and New Taipei City will be the scene of rallies at night, Tsai’s campaign office said in a statement on its website.
Ma returned the Kuomintang to power in 2008 eight years after its five-decade reign was ended. His government has resumed direct flights to China after a ban that had lasted six decades. It also allowed Chinese tourists to visit the island, eased investment rules and signed 16 agreements with China, including a trade deal.
Ma was widening his narrow lead over Tsai in public opinion polls taken prior to a blackout period for voter surveys that began Jan. 4. Taiwanese law bars publication or release of polls 10 days prior to presidential elections.
The island exercises de facto independence, having its own foreign policy, currency and elected government since Mao Zedong’s Communist Party took over the mainland in 1949 and the Kuomintang fled to Taiwan after losing the civil war.
China, Taiwan’s largest trading partner and the No. 1 investment destination, has more than 1,000 missiles pointed at the island.
Taiwan in November cut its forecast for 2011 growth to 4.51 percent and said the economy’s expansion will slow to 4.19 percent this year. The administration also lowered its projection for export growth this year to 5.27 percent from 6.25 percent.
Taiwan’s central bank in December left interest rates unchanged for a second straight quarter to support domestic spending as Europe’s sovereign-debt crisis hurts exports and threatens jobs.
A total of 109 companies reached agreements with 13,034 workers to take unpaid leave as of Dec. 31, according to a Council of Labor Affairs statement on its website.
The average price of existing homes in Taipei climbed 1.8 percent in November to NT$558,000 per ping, equivalent to 36 square feet, after declining the previous month from a record NT$571,000 in September, according to Sinyi Realty Co., the island’s biggest real-estate brokerage.
Taiwan’s consumer prices unexpectedly rose 2.03 percent in December, the fastest pace in 22 months, as the cost of food surged, government data showed on Jan. 5.
--Editor: Paul Tighe, Jim McDonald
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