Turnout could be lowest since 1996 election

Amid all the song and dance, there is disquiet among the parties that voter turnout this time might be one of the lowest in Taiwan's election history.

Besides anticipated bad weather, many voters are likely to stay home during this Saturday's polls also because they expect presidential front runner Tsai Ing-wen to win the top job. The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chief is also likely to lead her party's candidates to victory in legislative elections - making history by wresting control of the Parliament from the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) for the first time.

According to Taiwan's Central Elections Commission, only up to 70 per cent of eligible voters are expected to cast their ballots - the lowest since the first direct presidential election in 1996.

In the last presidential election in 2012, 74.4 per cent of voters turned up to elect the KMT's Mr Ma Ying-jeou to a second term. The highest voter turnout was in 2000, when 82.7 per cent of the electorate came out to vote DPP's Chen Shui-bian into the highest office.

This time round, analysts say, the low turnout will favour the DPP. This will no doubt raise fears among KMT leaders who are struggling to stop or slow down the momentum of the green (DPP's colour) movement.

Political analyst Yen Chen- shen explained that DPP supporters are more likely to go to the polls than their KMT counterparts "who are now disenchanted". "They are not only unhappy with Taiwan's economic performance, but also President Ma Ying-jeou's lack of political skill and inability to work with the KMT-dominated legislature."

The research fellow at the Institute of International Relations of the National Chengchi University said Ms Tsai's double-digit lead over her KMT rival Eric Chu is so wide that the sixth direct presidential election has lost all suspense and everyone expects Ms Tsai to "coast to victory".

He added that voters are also not very interested because the two main parties have failed to generate much optimism for Taiwan's future.

As campaigning enters its final leg, party leaders are pounding the streets and holding rallies every night to get as many of the 18.8 million eligible voters to head to the ballot box as they can. The DPP rolled out an ad last weekend, urging all Taiwanese to head to their home towns to vote. It is hoping to fire up the mood of the electorate, especially more than 1.3 million first-time voters.

Among them is undergraduate Lai Zi-cong, who will be going to Kaohsiung from Taipei to vote for the DPP. "I'm very disappointed with the state (that Taiwan) is in with the KMT in charge. I want to give the DPP a chance to run (Taiwan)," said the 21-year-old, adding that Ms Tsai is "our only hope to a better life".

There are also undecided voters like accountant Ed Cheng, 26, who said he has yet to hear any substantive policy debates to make a decision.

"There is a lot of mud-slinging but very little substance in what the candidates are saying about their plans and policies... how am I to take them seriously and vote anyone in?"

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 12, 2016, with the headline 'Turnout could be lowest since 1996 election'. Print Edition | Subscribe