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Election Fervor in Taiwan

Posted March. 21, 2008 03:00,   


With only 20 days till Taiwan’s presidential election, the ruling Democratic Progressive Party candidate Frank Hsieh and the Kuomintang Party candidate Ma Ying-jeou had their final battle in the nation’s second largest city, Kaohsiung.

Unlike Taipei, the capital of Taiwan where Ma Ying-jeou’s approval rating is overwhelmingly high, the southern region where many ethnic Taiwanese who support independence reside, is the DPP’s stronghold.

Ma and his running mate Vincent Siew criticized the ruling party, saying, “It is time to put an end to the eight year reign of President Chen Shui-bian.”

The ruling party’s candidate Hsieh also joined in street rallies to solidify his lead in Kaohsiung.

As the campaign nears its end, the candidates are even echoing each other’s pledges and the verbal sparring is getting more heated.

Ma, who has emphasized a cooperative relationship with the mainland, said he would boycott the Beijing Olympics if the Chinese government continued to suppress Tibetans by force. This seems intended ease public concern that the Chinese-born candidate is too beholden to Beijing’s whims.

Meanwhile, Hsieh, who has criticized China’s Tibetan crackdown, confused voters by saying, “Taking part in the Olympic Games is our right. Why should we give it up?”

He has been a hard-liner in cross-strait relations. But he has ironically voiced conciliatory sentiments toward China. Just days away from the election, he said, “I’ll expand communication, commerce and travel with China, and lift restrictions on investment by Chinese companies.

Analysts say that although the Tibet unrest on March 14 helped Hsieh, his chances of victory seem slim. Under these unfavorable conditions, the DPP candidate claimed, “I received information that Ma plans to buy votes by spending 470 million Taiwanese dollars.”

Meanwhile, voters have been enthralled by the political drama. Airliners have schedule additional flights because many Taiwanese staying in the mainland are expected to fly back to Taiwan. Even hospital patients are clamoring to be allowed leave to exercise their voting rights.

Joining the political fray, incumbent President Chen Shui-bian said, “If the Taiwanese choose to join the United Nations through this referendum, this will help Tibetans greatly.” The referendum will also be held on the same day as the presidential election.