Final weekend rallies in Taiwan ahead of presidential vote

 Supporters of Taiwan's ruling Kuomintang (KMT) at a rally ahead of Jan 16 Taiwan's election in Taipei on Jan 10, 2016.
Supporters of Taiwan's ruling Kuomintang (KMT) at a rally ahead of Jan 16 Taiwan's election in Taipei on Jan 10, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS
Presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen waving while campaigning in southern Kaohsiung on Jan 9, 2016.
Presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen waving while campaigning in southern Kaohsiung on Jan 9, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

TAIPEI (AFP) - Tens of thousands gathered in Taiwan on Saturday (Jan 9) as rival presidential candidates took to the streets for "super weekend" rallies.

It is the last weekend of campaigning before the vote for president next Saturday, when the embattled ruling Kuomintang (KMT) is expected to be defeated.

Dr Tsai Ing-wen of the main opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is forecast to take the leadership as the KMT struggles for public support, due to scepticism over its China-friendly policies and anger at the island's stagnating economy.

But KMT candidate Eric Chu still managed to garner massive crowds on the streets of Taipei on Saturday afternoon, with the KMT saying 150,000 turned out for his rally.

Mr Chu walked alongside current president Ma Ying-jeou in a march through central Taipei as supporters donned fancy dress, waved the national flag, sang and held up "Victory" signs.

Mr Chu has emphasised the importance of stable relations with China, saying a vote for the traditionally Beijing-sceptic DPP would be a step backwards.

"We are marching together for Taiwan's stability and let's look to victory and success on Jan 16," he told the crowds.

Supporters said they were afraid the DPP would bring instability.

"The DPP is pro-independence and I worry tensions will rise with China if it were to take power," said supporter Peng Yu-chia, 45, a housewife with two children. "I want a secure life and stable society for my children to grow up in," she added.

Finance worker Kuo Feng-hsiang, 25, said he thought the KMT was a safer bet for the economy.

"Even though Ma hasn't done that well, I'd like to give the KMT another chance. I think Chu can do better," he said.

Mr Ma also spoke to supporters, promising the KMT would improve its performance.

"Tsai talks about maintaining the status quo and stability, but it won't fall from the sky," said Mr Ma.

Taiwan is self-ruling after it split from China in 1949 following a civil war on the mainland, but Beijing still considers it part of its territory, awaiting reunification.

Mr Ma has overseen a rapprochement with China since he took power in 2008, leading to trade deals and a tourist boom, and culminating in a historic summit with Chinese president Xi Jinping.

But many voters feel it is big business that has reaped the benefits, not ordinary people, and there are growing concerns over Beijing's influence.

Dr Tsai's rally was scheduled in the city of Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan, the DPP's heartland.

She spoke to supporters in the coastal village of Fenggang, her father's hometown, on Saturday morning.

"Let this place become the hometown of the president on Jan 16," she said.

Dr Tsai visited a temple in the village, which is in southernmost Pingtung county, and was given a platter of buns by officials.

Members of her own family also welcomed her with flowers and leaf-wrapped glutinous rice bundles.

Around 100 villagers gathered at the temple, many wearing hats with campaign slogans and waving flags bearing her name.