01/08/2016, 00.00
TAIWAN
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Taiwan’s presidential elections between independence and fear of Beijing

The three candidates are waiting to start the final sprint next Monday. DPP candidate Tsai Ing-wen is the frontrunner, but nationalist Eric Chu could still make a comeback. James Soon, the "third choice" for over 15 years, could become irrelevant.

Taipei (AsiaNews) – The three candidates running in Taiwan’s upcoming presidential elections on 16 January are not going to be available to the media until next Monday, when the last week of campaign begins.

Surveys indicate that the island might elect its first female president after a campaign dominated by relations with the mainland.

Although firm on independence, the frontrunner believes in peaceful and stable relations with Beijing. Her nationalist opponent believes in closer ties with China to revive the economy. The third candidate seems to hesitate.

Tsai Ing-wen, from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), was the first woman to run for Taiwan’s highest office in 2012 when she lost to Ma Ying-jeou, but managed to get 45 per cent of the votes.

She once served as Minister of the Mainland Affairs Council and was one of the chief drafters of the "special state-to-state relations" doctrine of then President Lee Teng-hui, which defined Taiwan and China's relationship on country-to-country terms, angering Beijing and leading to heightened tensions.

Although she remains in the pro-independence camp and refuses Beijing's precondition that Taiwan is a part of "one China", she has moderated her views, promised to maintain peaceful and stable relations and expressed her openness to having talks with Chinese officials. Her running mate, Chen Chen-jen, is a Catholic.

Eric Chu is an old time insider. His family is a pillar the Kuomintang (Nationalist Party, KMT) going back to the times of "Generalissimo" Chiang Kai-shek.

He is the current mayor of Taiwan's most populous city, New Taipei City, and took over the helm of the party in January last year.

A deputy prime minister under Wu Den-yih, who was appointed by President Ma, Chu was picked as KMT candidate last October, after the party’s first nominee, Hung Hsiu-chu, led a disastrous early campaign.

Like outgoing President Ma, Chu is soft on the mainland, and backs stronger economic ties with China, seeing that as preferable to independence and crucial to lifting Taiwan's economy out of the doldrums.

The third candidate is James Soong, running for the small People First Party. He is a veteran of presidential races. Highlighting his status as the outsider, he said Taiwan should have a third choice.

However, voters from the two main parties view him with suspicion. For Democrats, he is a KMT defector. For nationalists, he is bound to take votes away from their candidate.

His best showing came in 2000, second, when he split the rightwing vote between himself and the KMY candidate Lien Chan, leading to the election of the first DPP president, Chen Shui -bien.

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