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23 May 2024

Taiwan's 'Cool Lady': Wife boon for re-elected Ma


She wears jeans, uses no make-up and rarely speaks in public -- Chow Mei-ching is not a glamorous first lady, but she has captured Taiwan people's hearts with her low-key charm.

Nicknamed "Cool Lady" by local media for her unconventional style, Chow retired from a senior position at a bank when Ma Ying-jeou became president in 2008 and has since focused on charity and cultural works.

"Don't call me Madame," the 59-year-old said at one public event. "There are many Madames, but only one Chow Mei-ching."

In traditionally male-dominated Taiwan, politicians' wives have generally stayed in the background, but not Chow, who has unwittingly risen to superstar status.

Ma, who won a comfortable re-election victory on Saturday despite opinion polls predicting a tight race, acknowledged that his wife has been crucial.

"I believe she has been a great help in the run-up to the vote," Ma said at a post-election press conference. "To tell the truth, she has been so popular that I've even been a bit jealous."

Chow was mobbed by supporters on the campaign trail who shouted "Chow elected!" even though she was not a candidate. Her response was mostly a modest: "Please support Ma."

"Chow criss-crossed Taiwan to campaign for her husband, bowed low to supporters despite a waist injury and moved people's hearts with her sincerity," the mass-circulation Apple Daily said in a commentary.

"She is Ma's number-one campaigner. The 'Cool Lady' wave swept Taiwan wherever she went, she was like a fourth candidate in the race."

Observers say Chow has retained her clean and fresh "aunt next door" image despite her elevated status as the first lady, with a low-profile style that has raised the appeal of the more aloof and elitist Ma.

"Chow is the ace card for Ma's campaign. She is the key to attracting voters in the middle of the political spectrum and her good image helps bring out more votes," said William Niu, a political analyst at Chinese Culture University in Taipei.

"She is an atypical first lady. She has remained an aunt next door and remained true to herself despite her position. She is approachable, she is not pretentious and she is charming in a low-profile manner."

Businesswoman Chen Na-ni admitted that she voted for Ma largely because of his wife. "Chow is friendly and down-to-earth, she doesn't have the usual arrogant manner of a big official's wife."

Chow largely stayed out of the limelight during Ma's early political career and rarely joined officials' other halves at social functions. But when her husband ran for the presidency in 2008 she hit the campaign trail in earnest.

Observers say she also marked a sharp contrast to former first lady Wu Shu-chen, wife of the now-jailed ex-leader Chen Shui-bian, who has been implicated in a string of corruption scandals.

Wu caused widespread consternation by appearing in public in designer clothes and with expensive jewelry.