Ma Ying-jeou appears as ‘shopkeeper for a day’ in Taipei bookstore

  • Video clip shows 68-year-old serving customers to ‘earn some money’ for calligraphy brushes and ink to write Lunar New Year couplets for supporters
  • Former Taiwanese president has been trying to rebuild his popularity, but his office says they are unaware of whether he plans to join 2020 election race
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 January, 2019, 7:48pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 January, 2019, 7:58pm

Ma Ying-jeou has been trying to rebuild his popularity, and the latest effort involves a video clip of the former Taiwanese president working as a “shopkeeper for a day” at a bookstore in Taipei.

More than two years after he stepped down from the top job and the helm of the mainland-friendly Kuomintang, the 68-year-old is seen in the video serving customers to “earn some money” so that he can buy calligraphy brushes and ink to write Lunar New Year couplets to give to his supporters.

The video has been viewed more than 110,000 times since Ma’s office posted it on YouTube on Friday.

But the Harvard Law School graduate is not a natural for retail work, judging from the footage. Dressed casually and wearing a face mask to hide his identity, when a customer asks to use JKo Pay – the local version of Apple Pay – Ma appears to have never heard of it.

Still, it is a chance to try to sell some copies of his book. But he fails to drum up any interest in his memoir until he removes the face mask, to the delight of some of the women customers at least.

According to his office, the video aims to show another side to Ma who, in his younger days, was known for his movie star looks and squeaky clean image.

“We want to let the public know that the ex-president is actually an easy-going person, the man next door type,” an official from the office said.

But he would not be drawn on whether the video had anything to do with Ma potentially joining the 2020 presidential election race.

“This kind of question has been around for some time, you’ll have to ask the former president because we have no idea at all,” the official said.

In a recent radio interview, Ma also deflected questions about a possible comeback, saying he had been asked about his intentions numerous times since he launched a political foundation in July and released his memoir in December. “They are much too imaginative,” he said.

Yet efforts on social media such as the “shopkeeper” video are clearly aimed at promoting his image and winning support.

On the self-ruled island, politicians such as Taipei mayor Ko Wen-je, a former doctor with no political affiliation, has had the most success amassing fans on platforms such as YouTube and Facebook.

Kaohsiung mayor Han Kuo-yu, of the KMT, also used social media to help his campaign in the November local government elections.

Lin Ching-hung, an author and commentator, said social media campaigns were a valid way to win public support.

“To improve public understanding of serious topics or to create a laid-back image, there’s nothing wrong with politicians trying to turn around their image or do something lighthearted online – like Ma acting as a shopkeeper for a day, or President Tsai Ing-wen going to Ximending [in Taipei] to eat and shop, or former New Taipei mayor Eric Chu making a pig gesture on Facebook,” Lin said.

But he added that gaining popularity online was not the same as doing a good job in government, and voters knew that.

Ma’s popularity has risen sharply in the past year or so, in contrast with his time as president – especially during the last few years of his second term, which ended in 2016.

When he was first elected in 2008, Ma’s approval rating was at 68 per cent. But his government’s mishandling of the economy and issues such as a devastating typhoon that killed nearly 700 people in 2009, as well as the Sunflower movement – which saw hundreds of students storming the legislature in 2014 – made him highly unpopular.

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