Polls Close in Tight Taiwan Presidential Election

Posted January 14th, 2012 at 4:30 am (UTC-5)
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Polls have closed in Taiwan, where residents voted Saturday in a closely contested presidential election that has attracted interest in the United States and China.

President Ma Ying-jeou faced off against his main challenger, Democratic Progressive Party candidate Tsai Ing-wen, who wants to become the island's first female leader.

Mr. Ma, whose Nationalist Party administration has engineered ground-breaking economic ties with China, argued that his policies have worked well for Taiwan's people.

“We have a package of well-constructed policies. And we have proven that they have worked very well in the past three years. So, please vote for Ma Ying-jeou, let me continue to govern the country. Do you agree?” (with audio of people cheering in approval)

He reminded supporters that his policies – including a major free trade deal – have helped open the huge Chinese market to Taiwan's high-tech industries.

But Ms. Tsai, at her own huge rally, pointed to a growing income disparity between rich and poor, and predicted she will be elected with a mandate to give Taiwan's people a greater sense of security.

“Tomorrow, Taiwan is about to face a new page in our history, because we are about to have a female president.”

Ms. Tsai trailed by just three percentage points in the final public opinion polls a week ago.

The election is being watched carefully in Beijing, where Chinese officials are hoping Mr. Ma will be able to eke out a victory. Relations between China and Taiwan hit a low point during a previous period of rule by Ms. Tsai's DPP, which is more sympathetic than the Nationalists to calls for Taiwan's independence.

The outcome is also of concern to the United States, which is obliged by law to support Taiwan in the event of any hostilities with China. Beijing considers Taiwan a breakaway Chinese province and has threatened to use military force in the event of a declaration of independence.

Election results will be announced later Saturday.

Taiwan broke away from the mainland in 1949 at the end of the Chinese civil war, in which Mao Zedong's communists defeated the nationalists under Chiang Kai-shek.