01/14/2012, 00.00
TAIWAN – CHINA
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Chinese envy Taiwan’s elections

by Paul Hong
Ma Ying-jeou and Tsai Ing-wen are in a dead heat. As a third candidate, James Soong might help Tsai, the first female candidate, beat Ma. Mainlanders enjoy Taiwan’s televised parliamentary debates and citizen criticism of their political leaders. Many admire the island’s democracy.
Taipei (AsiaNews) – Some 18 million Taiwanese had a chance to cast their vote today. On the mainland, where millions do not vote, many look at the island’s democracy at work with envy.

Outgoing President Ma Ying-jeou is seeking re-election. For the Kuomintang (KMT) candidate, the success of his campaign is based on improved ties with Beijing and greater two-way trade and investments, including air, sea and postal ties. He is supported in his bid by Taiwan’s big business elite and the mainland’s leadership.

His challenger, Tsai Ing-wen, is the first woman running for the presidency. A graduate of the London School of Economics, she is running under the banner of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which draws support from the island’s working class and farmers. She is also a staunch defender of the island’s autonomy against what some believe is its excessive dependence on its giant neighbour.

A third candidate, James Soong, heads a splinter party that broke away from the KMT that could split the pro-mainland vote.

Opinion polls suggest a dead heat between Ma and Tsai. A good showing by Soong might lead to Ma’s defeat.

Irrespective of the result, Taiwan’s presidential elections have proven a success as a showcase for Western-styled democracy in China. For years, the mainland leadership has preached political reforms, albeit not Western democracy, but has failed to deliver either reform or democracy.

On the mainland, many bloggers could not help but express their envy for Taiwan’s democracy.

"I am 24. Can I cast my ballot for my country's leader before I die?" one asked.

Another wrote, "I dreamed of getting Taiwan back when I was young. But now I want the mainland to be `returned' to Taiwan.”

In one post, someone noted that although Taiwan is recognised by only 23 countries, Taiwanese can travel on their passport in at least 124 countries.

Chinese who travelled to the island have also expressed an interest in its democracy. For the million or so tourists from the mainland who visited the island, watching live parliamentary debates on TV and listening to voters’ criticism of their leaders is a pleasant change from what they are used to.

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