Pro-independence candidate Tsai Ing-wen has effectively won Taiwan’s presidential elections after Eric Chu, the candidate and chairman of the ruling Kuomintang (KMT), conceded defeat.
Tsai of Taiwan’s main opposition party was on course for a landslide election victory on Saturday, polls showed, as voters turn their backs on closer ties with China.
With more than half the votes counted, Tsai of the Beijing-wary Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was ahead with 58.1 percent, according to a live count from polling stations by Taiwan’s FTV.
Eric Chu was trailing in second on 32.5 percent. Veteran conservative candidate James Soong of the People First Party was third with 9.4 percent.
The China-friendly KMT had been ruling the island for eight years.
In a victory speech in the capital, Taipei Tsai said the results showed that democracy is ingrained in the Taiwanese people and that she will strive to maintain stability with China.
“We will work towards maintaining the status quo for peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait in order to bring the greatest benefits and well-being to the Taiwanese people,” Tsai said.
“I also want to emphasise that both of sides of the strait have a responsibility to find a mutually acceptable means of interactions that are based on dignity and reciprocity. We must ensure that no provocation or accidents take place,” she added.
Al Jazeera’s Adrian Brown, reporting from the Taiwanese capital, said Tsai’s election could lead to uncertainty between Beijing and Taipei.
“In many ways, the DPP represents China’s worst nightmare because of her pro-independent stance, but this is a woman they [China] now will have to deal with and how China responds, of course, in the coming days and weeks will really define the future of relationships between China and Taiwan,” Brown said.
Parliamentary polls were also held, and if the DPP wins those too, Tsai will get an even stronger mandate.
Tsai has walked a careful path on her China strategy, saying she wants to maintain the “status quo” with Beijing.
However, the DPP is traditionally a pro-independence party, and opponents say Tsai will destabilise relations.
After decades of enmity, current KMT President Ma Ying-jeou has overseen a dramatic rapprochement with China since coming to power in 2008.
Although Taiwan is self-ruling after it split with China following a civil war in 1949, it has never formally declared independence, and Beijing still sees it as part of its territory awaiting reunification – by force if necessary.
The thaw culminated in a summit between Ma and Chinese President Xi Jinping in November.
Yet, despite more than 20 deals and a tourist boom, closer ties have exacerbated fears that China is eroding Taiwan’s sovereignty by making it economically dependent.
In 2014, the government was forced to shelve a trade pact after student-led protesters occupied parliament.
Beijing has warned it will not deal with any leader who does not recognise the “one China” principle, part of a tacit agreement between Beijing and the KMT known as the “1992 Consensus”. The DPP has never recognised the consensus.
Meanwhile, Washington on Saturday congratulated Tsai on her election victory.
“We share with the Taiwan people a profound interest in the continuation of cross-Strait peace and stability. We look forward to working with Dr Tsai and Taiwan’s leaders of all parties to advance our many common interests and further strengthen the unofficial relationship between the United States and the people on Taiwan.” John Kirby, the US state department’s spokesman said in a statement.