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Latest update : 2012-01-14

Incumbent Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou gained victory in Saturday's national elections after a tightly fought ballot. The win for the China friendly leader should see ties strengthened between Taipei and Beijing in during his second term.

AFP - Taiwan's Beijing-friendly leader Ma Ying-jeou appeared set for a second four-year term as president Saturday after a vote eagerly watched in both China and the United States.

Ma, who has overseen the most dramatic thaw in the island's ties with China since the two sides split over 60 years ago, enjoyed a seemingly unassailable lead over his main challenger Tsai Ing-wen in vote counts carried by local TV.

With more than 12 million votes tallied, representing around 80 percent of the expected turnout, Ma was some 700,000 votes ahead of Tsai, a China-sceptic vying to become the island's first female leader.

"We've pretty much won," Taipei mayor Hau Lung-bin, a heavyweight of Ma's Kuomintang (KMT) party, told AFP. "This meets our expectations, and we are doing really well in the north."

Vice President Vincent Siew said the outcome was "a victory for Taiwanese people. This is an approval of our first term and we are happy for a second chance. The voters support four years of stability and peace in the future."

Tsai Huang-liang, a senior lawmaker from Tsai's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) pointed to a similar result.

"We are really surprised about the outcome, we might eventually lose by 600,000 to 700,000 votes," he said.

"This is beyond our imagination, we didn't expect to lose by so many votes," he told the SET news channel.

No opinion polls were allowed in the 10 days leading up to the vote, but surveys published last week had shown a race too close to call, with Ma leading Tsai by as little as three percentage points.

Beijing and Washington are watching closely, as victory for Ma, 61, will likely be seen as a renewed mandate for policies that have raised exchanges with China to unprecedented levels and yielded a sweeping trade pact.

By contrast, a win for 55-year-old Tsai could usher in a period of uncertainty in ties with China, as her DPP has traditionally favoured distancing the island from the mainland.

"The reason why the Chinese mainland is so concerned about the Taiwan election is because we are worried that the idea of 'Taiwan independence' will be further spread by the process, as it was in the past," the state-controlled Chinese paper Global Times said Friday.

Although China and Taiwan have been governed separately since 1949, Beijing still claims sovereignty over the island, and has vowed to get it back, even if that involves going to war.

The United States, too, is keeping a close eye on the election, hoping the outcome will not upset the stability that the strategically vital Taiwan Straits area has experienced since Ma assumed power in 2008.

"I slept well last night, I am in a good mood and I feel very confident," Tsai told reporters after casting her ballot near Taipei.

When asked if she was prepared to be Taiwan's first female president, she answered: "Yes, I'm ready."

Complicating the race is the third candidate, former KMT heavyweight James Soong, 69, who never stood any real chance of winning but whose support base overlaps with Ma's and was expected to cost the incumbent key votes.

Officials believe the tightness of the race likely led to a heavy turnout.

Chang Poh-ya, chairwoman of the Central Election Commission, said Friday she expected about 80 percent of the island's 18.1 million eligible voters to take part in the election, compared with just over 76 percent in the 2008 vote.

The Ma camp counted on the support of an estimated 200,000 China-based Taiwanese businesspeople and their relatives who returned home to vote.

"I voted for Ma because I am doing business with China and I often travel there," said businesswoman Ane Wei at a polling station in Taipei. "It'd be more convenient for me and good for my business if he remains in office."

Ruby Yang, an office worker, said she had cast her ballot in favour of Tsai "because I want to see the first female president in Taiwan".

Both Ma and Tsai staged huge rallies in Taipei on Friday to whip up support and try to win over the undecided voters who may decide the outcome.

The presidential vote coincides with a poll for Taiwan's 113-member parliament, where the KMT currently has a majority.

Date created : 2012-01-14


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