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Last Updated: Friday, 21 March 2008, 06:48 GMT
Q&A: Taiwan elections
Voters in Taiwan go to the polls on Saturday to elect a new president. They are also voting in two referendums on membership of the United Nations. The BBC looks at the main issues.

What is the current situation?

The Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang, dominated Taiwanese politics for more than 50 years. But independence-leaning Chen Shui-bian of the Democratic Progressive Party ended the KMT's monopoly on power when he won elections in March 2000.

During his time in office, he reinforced Taiwan's separate identity from China, angering the authorities in Beijing.

But over his eight years in power, voters have become increasingly concerned about economic issues and have tired of the corruption scandals that have dogged Mr Chen and his aides.

The DPP suffered a crushing defeat in legislative elections in January, leaving the KMT in a strong position to regain power.

Who is standing?

Mr Chen has served two terms in office and must step down. So the DPP candidate is Frank Hsieh, a former lawyer with strong democratic credentials, who has served as Taiwanese premier in the past. He is very popular in southern Taiwan, where as mayor he revitalised the city of Kaohsiung.

He faces a tough battle against KMT candidate Ma Ying-jeou, a Harvard-educated lawyer who has risen rapidly through the party ranks. Telegenic and charming, Mr Ma ousted the current president as Taipei mayor in 1998.

What are the main issues for voters?

The last elections, in March 2004, were dominated by the island's difficult relationship with China. But this time it is economic and social issues that are resonating with voters. Inflation is rising, incomes have stagnated and there is a growing gap between rich and poor.

Many voters feel that closer ties with China would revitalise the economy, and both Mr Hsieh and Mr Ma promise better cross-strait links.

Both want to increase direct charter flights between the two sides and relax bilateral investment limits.

But Mr Ma wants to go further, calling for a "common market" with China that could at some point lead to an EU-style treaty.

So Taiwan's status is off the agenda?

Economic issues have certainly dominated in recent months, but this does not mean that the status issue has gone away.

Beijing claims sovereignty over Taiwan, and has threatened to use force if it declares independence. And in the last few days, the violence in Tibet has refocused attention on the candidates' positions on political ties with Beijing.

Both the candidates have ruled out reunification. Mr Ma, whose party traditionally leans more towards China, has said in the past that he favours a conditional peace deal with Beijing at an unspecified point in the future.

Mr Hsieh, while more conciliatory towards Beijing than the outspoken President Chen, takes a tougher line.

Since the protests in Tibet, both candidates have upped their nationalist rhetoric. "If elected, I would not let Taiwan become Tibetised," Mr Ma told a rally days before the polls. Mr Hsieh, meanwhile, has accused Mr Ma of flip-flopping on vital issues of national security.

So far the Tibet crisis seems to be favouring Mr Hsieh's campaign.

What about the referendums?

The Taiwanese people are also being asked to vote in two referendums, one by each party. Both ask whether the island should join the United Nations.

Taiwan currently has no seat at the UN, having lost it to China in 1971. Its many subsequent attempts to regain membership have been blocked by China.

The referendums will have no formal effect, even if they pass. Whatever the result, China will continue to block Taiwan's entry to the international body.

But Beijing is extremely unhappy that they are taking place at all, perceiving endorsement of either as a move in the direction of formal independence.

Approval "would deal a serious blow to cross-strait relations that would harm the fundamental interests of people on both sides", Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said on 18 March.



SEE ALSO
Tibet focus for Taiwan election
21 Mar 08 |  Asia-Pacific



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