TAIPEI (AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE) - Dr Tsai Ing-wen, widely tipped to become Taiwan's next president, kicked off a one-month election campaign yesterday, with supporters bringing donations in piggy banks to a rally held by her opposition party.
About a thousand people gathered outside the headquarters of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in the capital Taipei to hear a speech made by Dr Tsai - who would become Taiwan's first female president if elected - with many holding green plastic piggy banks stuffed with coins and banknotes.
The ruling Kuomintang (KMT) is expected to be unseated from power in the upcoming January elections as the public becomes increasingly fearful of warming ties with China, which sees Taiwan as a renegade province to be brought back into its fold.
The KMT is struggling to regain public support after its worst-ever local election defeat last year, with its China-friendly policy under current President Ma Ying-jeou a major factor. There are fears that Beijing's influence on the island is growing, with opponents riled by Mr Ma's recent high-profile meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The DPP first started using piggy banks during campaigning for the 2012 election, describing itself as a party funded by the people, contrasting its grassroots appeal with the wealthy KMT.
"I believe people are donating their pigs because they hope it can usher in a new political era," Dr Tsai said, addressing the rally. "The DPP is a party held up by the people... We don't run any private businesses or rely on big corporate donations," she added.
Dr Tsai is currently ahead by a wide margin with over 46 per cent support in a poll this month conducted by Taiwan Indicators Survey Research, while KMT candidate Eric Chu lags behind at about 16 per cent.
Supporters waved flags with the DPP campaign slogan "Light Up Taiwan" and shook their piggy banks as Ms Tsai went on stage to give her speech, with some calling out, "Hello, President!"
"When I'm frustrated with the KMT, I'd put money in," said Ms Winnie Su, 35, as she waited to hand over her donation of four full piggy banks. "The KMT made such a mess in the past eight years and they still don't know how to reflect (on their mistakes)," she said, adding that she used to be a loyal KMT supporter until the 2008 elections.
The DPP says the piggy bank campaign was inspired by a group of triplets in southern Taiwan who brought their savings to support Dr Tsai. The party collected about 140,000 piggy banks during the 2012 campaign and almost 87 per cent of their donations came from small, personal contributions.
The KMT is considered to be among the richest political parties in the world, and the scale of its assets often draws criticism. It registered total assets of NT$25.6 billion (S$1 billion) last year, compared with about NT$480 million by the DPP.
China still considers Taiwan part of its territory awaiting reunification by force if necessary, even though the island has ruled itself for more than six decades since their split in 1949 at the end of a civil war.