More than 19 million voters in Taiwan are expected to participate in a general election this weekend amid the backdrop of a growing fear of Chinese influence in the democratic island and the months of violent mass protest for democracy in Hong Kong.
The island, which has never been ruled by the Chinese Communist Party nor formed part of the People’s Republic of China, will nevertheless be choosing between candidates who espouse a closer relationship with Taiwan’s powerful neighbour, and those who believe Chinese influence is a threat to its democratic way of life.
Incumbent Tsai Ing-wen of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has seen her support grow as she has repeatedly spoken out in defence of Taiwan’s sovereignty and demanded that Beijing — which has refused to rule out the use of military force to annex the island — treat Taipei as an equal partner and sovereign state.
Tsai headed out this week for a final tour of the island ahead of Saturday’s election, once more hammering home her chief message, that a vote for her is a vote to protect Taiwan’s freedom and democracy.
“Taiwan is a free and democratic society: freedom and democracy are our core values,” she said. “This election is a crucial one … which will influence the future development of the country.”
“I hope young people won’t stay away. This election campaign is for young people. Fight for Taiwan!” she said.
Tsai is running against Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu of the Kuomintang (KMT) nationalist party, and veteran candidate James Soong of the People First Party.
Han said his pro-business, pro-China platform wouldn’t pose a threat to Taiwan’s freedoms.
“If I were president, I would guarantee freedom of speech 100 percent in Taiwan,” he said ahead of a planned rally outside the presidential palace to round off his campaign.
“All of our good friends who support [me]have waited a long time for this moment … so let us show our support and faith and love for the Republic of China,” he said.
Support for the KMT, the party that fled to Taiwan with the 1911 Republic of China government after losing control of China in 1949 and which still believes in a “unified” China that includes Taiwan, last month hit a new low.
Some 1.2 million young people will be casting their votes for the first time in this election, which will also return a freshly elected parliament, the Legislative Yuan.
They are a group more likely to sympathise with the recent pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, of which Tsai has been a vocal supporter, warning that China’s stated aim to “unify” with Taiwan under the “one country, two systems” framework used in the former colonial cities of Hong Kong and Macau could spell the end of the island’s freedoms.
The new president will take office on May 20, where they will be commander-in-chief of the country’s military and appoint the premier, who then forms a cabinet. The president also signs legislation into law.
The winning and losing candidates will either concede or accept victory late on Saturday, local time, in the absence of any dispute around the count. (Source: RFA)