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Last Updated: Friday, 11 January 2008, 16:10 GMT
Battle lines drawn in Taiwan vote
Voters are choosing new MPs in Taiwan, in an election seen as a barometer for March's presidential vote. The BBC's Caroline Gluck is on the island, where she has witnessed a bitterly-fought and often heated campaign.

KMT candidate Diane Lee
The KMT's Diane Lee likens the campaign to a 100m race
It has been a week of feverish election campaigning in Taiwan as candidates try to galvanise supporters and woo the undecided before the public vote for a new legislature on Saturday.

Neighbourhoods have been filled with the smell of firecrackers and the sound of loud drums as candidates - anxious to cover as much ground as possible in the crucial final days - pass by on Jeeps waving and smiling.

They are fighting for their political survival in a dramatically scaled-down legislature, which will see the number of seats cut from 225 to 113 in line with parliamentary reforms adopted in 2005.

The vote will also set the stage for presidential elections, due 10 weeks later.

"It's like you are running for a 100m race," said Diane Lee, a candidate for the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) aiming for her fourth term in office.

"We are running the first part, and the [candidate for] president is running the second part. If we win a lot, the next half will be easier, so we are trying our best."

Pendulum or bandwagon?

Most commentators are predicting the KMT, which now has a legislative majority, will strengthen its position. But they are divided on what influence this election will have on March's polls.

Some analysts, such as Professor Raymond Wu of Fu Jen Catholic University, predict a bandwagon effect where the party winning the parliamentary elections will go on to win the presidency.

DPP candidate Julian Kuo
The DPP has backed a referendum, also to be held on Saturday

"How much of a jump on the bandwagon there is remains to be seen, but I don't think in general people have been happy with what a divided government has brought Taiwan," he said.

Others believe there will be a pendulum effect, where supporters of the losing party mobilise in force and propel their candidate to victory.

During his eight years in office, outgoing President Chen Shui-bian, of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), has seen many important bills stalled amid rows with the KMT-controlled parliament.

Public discontent has also been fuelled by a string of corruption scandals involving the president's family and administration.

Hardworking campaign

High-ranking officials from both of the main parties have campaigned with their party's legislative candidates, using very different tactics.

The DPP has focused on national identity and Taiwan's ability to withstand pressure from China.

It has pushed for a referendum - to be held alongside the elections on Saturday - asking the public to support legislation to force the KMT to return state assets it says were illegally amassed during the 1950s.

Lee Shun-ho
I think the politicians are all trash, I don't trust them
Lee Shun-ho

For its part, the KMT has called for a boycott of the referendum - despite tabling its own targeting alleged corruption by the government.

The party has also focused on the performance of the Chen administration, which it says has created a sluggish economy with the island trailing behind the region's other so-called tiger economies.

But for candidates campaigning on the streets, it is local issues that take precedence.

Under new parliamentary rules, not only is the number of seats being cut but a new voting system is being introduced whereby voters choose both a party and a particular candidate.

"You need to be much more hardworking in this campaign," said DPP legislative candidate, Julian Kuo, fighting for a third term in office.

"[Under the previous system] if you only got 8% of the total vote, you could still be elected. But now you need to get 51%."

Vote-buying claims

The aim of the reforms - which got strong support from the public embarrassed by their unruly legislature, where fist and food fights often erupted - was to encourage more moderate, less corrupt or extreme legislators.

Veronica Wang
I'm not interested and judging the two main parties I'm not satisfied with either
Veronica Wang

But observers say there is little sign that this has happened so far.

Prosecutors are investigating a record number of reports of alleged vote buying.

Another problem is the predicted voter turnout. In the last parliamentary elections the turnout rate was about 59%. This time analysts are predicting it may dip to less than 50%.

On the streets of the capital, Taipei, an unscientific straw poll of passers-by appeared to confirm that view - with more than three-quarters saying they would not vote.

"It's boring. I don't care about the elections. It's too complex for me. I think the politicians are all trash. I don't trust them," said 25-year-old Lee Shun-ho, who also admitted he had never voted in any election.

"They still control the political power and brainwash us," said Diamond Si Singlim, cycling past an election campaign van.

"I'm not interested and judging the two main parties I'm not satisfied with either," said Veronica Wang.

"Taiwan can stand on the international stage because our economic power is very strong, but if we don't continue to move ahead, we have nothing."

VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Politicians in Taiwan on the campaign trail



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