[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Thursday, 18 March, 2004, 00:56 GMT
Q&A: Taiwan's presidential election
Taiwanese people with flags
Relations with China are the biggest issue in the election
Taiwan's voters go the polls on 20 March to elect a new president and vice president. BBC News Online explains the key issues.

Q: Does the election matter?

Taiwan's 23 million people certainly think so. After a vibrant campaign, the turn-out could be as high as 80%, partly because the outcome is too close to call.

For the rest of the world, the result is important too, because it could determine how Taiwan's difficult relationship with China moves forward. Governments and security analysts around the world will be watching closely, because the island is seen as a potential flashpoint where this century's likely superpowers - China and the US - could end up at war.

Q: Who is taking part?

The race is between two men of very different backgrounds and style. The incumbent, Chen Shui-bian, is a showman-like former lawyer who has stressed the need for Taiwan to stand up to China.

Opposing him is Lien Chan, an uncharismatic politician born in China who talks of the need for stability and better ties with the mainland.

President Chen Shui-bian
President Chen Shui-bian has combined referendums with the poll
Mr Chen's running-mate is a fellow stalwart of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), Annette Lu Hsiu-lien. They are usually referred to as the "pan-Greens", because of the colour of their campaign flag.

Mr Lien is Chairman of the Kuomintang (KMT) party, which governed Taiwan from 1949 - when it retreated to the island following the Chinese civil war - until 2000. His running mate is a former ally-turned rival-turned ally again, James Soong, of the People First Party. Their campaign's blue flag means they are often called the "pan-Blues".

Q: What are the main issues?

Relations with China are the clearest divide between the two camps.

Many see the DPP's eventual goal as full independence for Taiwan, an outcome which China has warned would lead to war, since it regards Taiwan as part of its territory.

Mr Chen further infuriated Beijing by deciding to hold a referendum on the same day as the election. Voters will be asked whether, if China refuses to redeploy missiles currently pointed at Taiwan, the island should bolster its missile defences.

They will also be asked whether to negotiate with Beijing.

The questions might not appear particularly inflammatory, but China is worried Mr Chen plans to use further referendums to stealthily move Taiwan towards formal independence.

The other big issues driving the campaign have been corruption - with both sides accusing each other of committing plenty - and the economy, which after a sharp downturn at the start of Mr Chen's four-year term is now showing signs of healthy recovery.

Q: What has been China's position so far?

Opposition leader Lien Chan
Opposition leader Lien Chan has stressed the need for "pragmatism"
Unlike previous presidential elections, when China tried and failed to influence the outcome by engaging in some last-minute sabre rattling, Beijing has kept noticeably quiet this time.

A government spokesman even claimed not to care who won the "so-called presidential election". (China does not recognise the Taiwanese government's legitimacy, so there is no formal contact between the two sides).

The big question is what happens afterwards. China would clearly prefer Lien Chan to win because he has stressed the need for "pragmatism", which is code for doing nothing to upset the status quo.

If he wins, China may wish to be seen to be trying to improve cross-straits relations and resume talks, though it appears unlikely that substantive progress can be made at this stage.

If Mr Chen wins, China may well try to play down its significance - assuming Mr Chen does nothing inflammatory.

China has always said it was ready to talk to Mr Chen, but only if he accepted pre-conditions - which would have been politically impossible for him. It will be interesting to see if China eases its stance if it knows it has to cope with Mr Chen for another four years.

Q: So all right then, who is going to win?

We would rather not answer that one. Opinion polls are banned for the last 10 days of campaigning, but the last polls taken showed the two camps neck and neck.

Even more intriguingly, up to 20% of voters appear undecided.

A single event, like a powerful media image or embarrassment, could swing the result right up to the last moment.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific