Election Fever in Taiwan

Taiwan heats up for a dramatic election, with Chinese relations at stake.

ByABC News
February 10, 2009, 10:22 AM

BEIJING, March 12, 2008 — -- Amid final preparations for the Beijing Olympics and the dramatic U.S. presidential race, China's neighbor, Taiwan, is gearing up for its own national elections.

Millions of Taiwanese will go to the polls on March 22 to choose a new president and help decide if Taiwan will try its luck against China in the United Nations.

Election day has been deemed so important that the national government has waived highway toll fees.

Kuomintang (Nationalist) Party candidate Ma Ying-jeou and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate Frank Hsieh will go head-to-head in an election that could define Taiwan's future.

Election results will significantly influence Taiwan's relationship with China, which views the island as a renegade province.

Ma, who has promised to relax Taiwan-China investment rules and create a "cross-strait common market" with China, leads Hsieh with 49 percent of the vote in the Chinese-language China Times poll.

Hsieh, a candidate who promotes greater Taiwanese independence, trails with 22 percent.

Another poll released by the Southern Taiwan Society, a pro-independence group, showed that Ma was supported by 41 percent of respondents, while 38 percent chose Hsieh.

But opinion poll numbers – as American voters have recently realized – are not always reliable.

Taiwan is known for its colorful campaigns and volatile politics. In the 2004 election, an 11th-hour assassination attempt on then-DPP candidate Chen Shui-bian incited days of protests and calls for a recount. Chen eventually won the race by a razor-thin margin.

This year is no exception. The fiercely competitive presidential race is doubling as a contest of Taiwanese identity. Hsieh contends that Ma is an "outsider" who is not truly committed to Taiwan.

Ma, a former mayor of Taipei who was born in Hong Kong and raised in Taiwan, has been criticized by the Hsieh campaign for holding a U.S. Green Card, or permanent residency, after he completed his law degree at Harvard.