Taiwan candidates get theatrical in packed election race

Taipei (AFP) –


From rock concerts to yellow rubber ducks and free condoms, Taiwan's parliamentary candidates are going to great lengths to stand out with a week to go in the island's tightest ever race for seats.

The vote for president on January 16 is grabbing the biggest headlines, and Saturday sees a "super weekend" of rallies by rival leadership candidates.

But a record 556 hopefuls are also running to become legislators in parliamentary elections which coincide with the presidential vote, with just 113 seats up for grabs.

The embattled ruling Kuomintang (KMT) risks losing its parliamentary majority this time, with the main opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) hoping to reap the benefits.

But 26 smaller parties, many of them new on the political scene, are also gunning for glory and are pulling out the stops to garner attention.

Rocker and social activist Freddy Lim of the newly formed New Power Party wooed thousands of supporters when he sang on stage with his heavy metal band ChthoniC in a recent free concert in Taipei.

The NPP, which grew out of the student-led Sunflower Movement that occupied parliament in 2014 over a trade pact with China, will enlist a theatre group to stage short plays, including the story of Don Quixote, in a campaign rally Saturday night.

Other candidates and their campaign teams have dressed as cartoon characters, or even stripped, for attention.

Liu Shu-fang, an independent candidate in southern Kaohsiung city, removed her dress to expose a red bra at one public event.

At other events, campaign teams appeared as Japanese cartoon characters, Hollywood animated movie "Minions", and the messaging app LINE's famous rabbit and bear.

Candidates are also turning to free gifts and memorabilia to get their message across.

Lee Yen-jong, standing for the new Green Party-Social Democratic Party Alliance, has been giving out free condoms in wrappers printed with her campaign information to promote safe sex.

Meanwhile, mainstream candidates are also trying an extra flourish.

DPP candidate Lai Jui-lung decked out his campaign truck with yellow rubber ducks -- a reminder to voters of his role in Kaohsiung city government when a giant inflatable duck, created by Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman, drew four million visitors to the southern city in 2013.

"The number of contestants in this parliamentary election is a historic high and some candidates are using gimmicks to get more media exposure for their campaign," said Chen Chao-chien, a commentator at Ming Chuan University.

This year also sees more niche parties trying their luck -- the Peace Pigeon Union is campaigning to promote "peaceful land and sea pigeon racing as a legitimate entertainment" to dispel the stigma around the sport.

Pigeon racing is popular in Taiwan but has been linked to criminal activity such as gambling, race fixing and even the kidnapping of pigeons for ransom.