Taiwan votes in election closely watched by China

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TAIPEI (Reuters) – Polls opened in Taiwan on Saturday in presidential and parliamentary elections that will be closely watched by Beijing, which claims the democratic island as its own.

Kuomintang party’s presidential candidate Han Kuo-yu speaks at an election rally in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, January 10, 2020. REUTERS/Ann Wang

China has ramped up efforts to get Taiwan to accept its rule, both through military intimidation and an offer of the “one country, two systems” model providing a high degree of autonomy, much as Beijing uses in Hong Kong.

Both Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party and her main competitor, Han Kuo-yu of the Kuomintang, which favors close ties with China, have rejected that model.

Tsai says only Taiwan’s people have the right to decide its future, and has denounced China for seeking to sway the election with misinformation and gestures such as sailing its newest aircraft carrier through the Taiwan Strait just before the vote.

China denies interfering.

On Friday, Tsai said a vote for her was a vote for democracy and freedom.

“More importantly, it shows our determination to defend our country and sovereignty,” she added.

Han says he will reset ties with China to boost Taiwan’s economy, but will not compromise on defending its democracy.

“Please come out to support Han Kuo-yu, whose vision for the country is ‘Taiwan safe, people get rich’ and ‘Cross-strait peace’,” Tseng Yung-chuan, one of his campaign officials, told a news conference on Friday.

The idea of “one country, two systems” has never been popular in Taiwan.

That is even less so now, after months of anti-government protests in Hong Kong. Protesters in the former British colony have widespread public sympathy in Taiwan, and both the DPP and Kuomintang have pledged to help those who flee to the island.

Taiwan has been a democratic success story since holding its first direct presidential election in 1996.

That was the culmination of decades of struggle against authoritarian rule and martial law under the Kuomintang, which ruled China until it was forced to flee to Taiwan in 1949, after losing a civil war with the Communists.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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