Mar 24, 2008
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Taiwan's next first lady to mark shift in style

Mar 24, 2008

President-elect Ma Ying-jeou (R) and his wife Chow Mei-ching flash victory signs in Taipei - Photo : Sam Yeh/AFP
TAIPEI, March 24, 2008 (AFP) - With an "aunt next door" image and habit of catching the bus to work, Taiwan's incoming First Lady will bring a shift in style from the wife of outgoing President Chen Shui-bian.

Chow Mei-ching, 56, who heads the legal division of a major Taipei banking group, has largely stayed out of the limelight during husband Ma Ying-jeou's political career.

That will now change, after Ma trounced ruling party rival Frank Hsieh for the presidency in a weekend election.

Criss-crossing the island to campaign for her husband this month, Chow was said to have won over voters by bowing 90 degrees as she shook their hands, a rare practice in Taiwan.

"Chow portrays a completely different image of the traditional mysterious and lofty first lady. She is modest and doesn't wear much make-up, she's like your neighbour or aunt next door," said William Niu, an advertising professor at Chinese Cultural University.

"People feel that she's on their side and she will listen to their needs," he said.

Chen's wife Wu Shu-chen was most often seen in elegant suits and expensive jewellery and was known for her interest in the stock market.

In 2006, she became the first president's wife in Taiwan to be prosecuted, accused of embezzling some 14.8 million Taiwan dollars (483,700 US) from state funds.

Wu has been confined to a wheelchair since 1984 after being hit by a truck, she is now on trial in a case that has also implicated her husband.

"I think Chow can set a good example for the wives of ranking officials -- that a first lady doesn't have to sport designer clothes and jewellery," said Niu.

The Apple Daily said it would be a challenge for Chow to fulfil her first lady duties as she had rarely joined other officials' wives in previous social functions in the past.

She must also decide whether to continue her banking job after Ma formally takes office on May 20. He told reporters at the weekend that she was keen to keep working.

The couple has two daughters who are working or studying in the United States.

Also moving into the presidential residence will be Ma Hsiao-jeou, a stray dog adopted by the Ma family as a charity gesture seven years ago. Its name means "Little Ma."

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