Taiwanese head to the polls

Presidential elections could mark turning point in Taiwan-Chinese relations.

    A turnout of more than 75 per cent is expected [AFP]

    See also

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    US ships deploy ahead of vote

    Focus

    Taiwan's identity crisis

    Polls close at 0800 GMT and a result is expected in the late evening.

     

    Voters will choose a successor to Chen Shui-bian,

    the current president, who steps down in May and who

    has repeatedly angered Beijing with his

    pro-independence rhetoric.

     

    Hsieh favours formal independence while Ma Ying-jeou, who leads in opinion polls, wants eventual reunification once China embraces democracy.

     

    The two candidates have toughened their stances on China following Beijing's crackdown in Tibet.

     

    Economic issues

     

    However, analysts say Taiwan's faltering economy is the number one issue with voters.

     

    Both candidates advocate more direct flights, tourism and investment opportunities between Taiwan and China in order to improve the domestic economy.

     

    Taiwan candidates

    Frank Hsieh

     

    Candidate for ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)

     

    Propelled into politics after working as a defence lawyer for political dissidents in 1980

     

    Focused campaign on environmental issues, the poor and Taiwan's identity

     

    Has backed cautious opening of Taiwan-China economic links and hopes eventually to accelerate moves to make Taiwan a country distinct from China

     

    Ma Ying-jeou

     

    Candidate for nationalist Kuomintang (KMT) party

     

    Unseated Chen Shui-bian, the current president, as mayor of Taipei in 1998

     

    Focused campaign on reviving Taiwan's economy by introducing common market with mainland China

     

    Has advocated improving relations with China, signing a peace treaty and halting Taiwan's push for independence

    Al Jazeeera's Hamish MacDonald in Taipei reported that Taiwan's economy is an overriding theme in the elections.

     

    MacDonald said that there has been an increased awareness among Taiwanese voters that the island's economy is directly anchored to the growth of China.

     

    However, Beijing has imposed certain limits on conducting business transactions from Taiwan.

     

    "Taiwan has a growing economy, yet it lags behind its Asian neighbours," MacDonald reported.

     

    Ralph Cossa from Pacific Forum CSIS, a US based think tank, says:  "Domestic issues, such as the economy and corruption, are bigger than China or foreign policy."


    Aside from selecting a new president in Saturday's election, voters will also be offered a referendum on whether to seek UN membership.

     

    The initiative, which asks whether Taiwan should seek to join the global body as "Taiwan" instead of its legal name, the Republic of China, has sparked statements of protest from China which sees the move as a further move towards independence.

     

    Japan, Russia, France and the US have also criticised the referendum as unnecessarily provocative.

     

    In a sign how sensitive the poll is, two US aircraft carriers have been deployed to an unspecified area near Taiwan during the election for what US defence officials say are training exercises.

     

    In 1996, during Taiwan's first democratic presidential election, China fired a series of missiles into the Taiwan Strait in a sabre-rattling gesture seen as trying to intimidate voters.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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