, TAIPEI, Taiwan, Jan 16 – Taiwan went to the polls Saturday and is expected to elect its first female president in a historic vote likely to end eight years of closer China ties.
The boisterous democracy is likely to push back against Beijing by bringing scholar-turned-politician Tsai Ing-wen to power, unseating the China-friendly ruling party.
Voters are uneasy about warming relations and, as the economy stagnates, many are frustrated that trade pacts signed with China have failed to benefit ordinary Taiwanese.
Tsai is the leader of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) which has a much warier approach to China than the unpopular ruling Kuomintang (KMT). Tsai is well ahead of KMT candidate Eric Chu in the polls.
“I feel very proud to have this right to participate in decision-making on our future,” said finance worker Sean Chen, 31, voting in Taipei.
“It’s a chance to tell the world what we really think.”
More than 18 million are eligible to vote Saturday, many of them criticising the KMT for failing to deliver on the economy and moving too close to China.
“Taiwan needs change, economically and politically,” said one 65-year-old voter in Taipei who gave his name as Lee.
“The government leaned too easily on China.”
In the KMT stronghold of New Taipei City, some voters were subdued.
“I’m afraid Tsai Ing-wen is likely to get elected. You know her position on cross-strait ties – if she cannot properly handle the issues and tensions escalate, no-one will benefit,” said shop owner Yang Chin-chun, 78.
But it was the plight of a teenage Taiwanese K-pop star that dominated local news coverage Saturday, with presidential candidates drawn into the row.
Chou Tzu-yu, 16, of girl-band TWICE who is based in South Korea, was forced to apologise after sparking online criticism in China for waving Taiwan’s official flag in a recent online broadcast.
Her remorseful video went viral within hours, with Tsai, Chu, and Taiwan’s president Ma Ying-jeou all leaping to her defence and demanding answers from China and South Korea over her treatment.