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Tsai Ing-wen

Taiwan’s Tsai Ing-wen on ‘last mile’ of fight for presidency, but her battle has just begun

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 January, 2016, 12:17am
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 January, 2016, 8:17am

As Taiwanese go to the polls today, Tsai Ing-wen of the main opposition Democratic Progressive Party is within grasp of the island’s top post.

But there are questions over whether the 59-year-old scholar-turned politician will be able to deliver on her promise to steer the island away from economic hardship and social injustice.

Many Taiwanese, mainlanders, and even Americans are asking the same questions: Is she able to deal with a Beijing eager to bring Taiwan back into its fold? Can she maintain cross-strait stability, given the pro-independence platform of her party?

READ MORE: It ain’t over till the lady wins: Taiwan’s presidential candidates in last gasp effort for votes

Four years ago, a weary Tsai led party bigwigs in offering a bow of gratitude to thousands of crestfallen yellow-raincoat-clad supporters, conceding defeat to her Kuomintang opponent incumbent President Ma Ying-jeou, amid drizzle in the dark night.

Admitting that she still had the “last mile” to go, Tsai pledged: “Dear people of Taiwan, we will come back one day, for sure.”

Tsai’s swift comeback is thanks in large part to the poor performance of the Ma government and a lacklustre economy which has irked a great number of Taiwanese – particularly the young, many of whom struggle to support themselves financially.

With all opinion polls indicating she has a huge lead ahead of her opponents, the KMT’s Eric Chu Li-luan, and People First Party Chairman James Soong Chu-yu, Tsai is widely tipped to finish her “last mile” and become the first female president of the island.

As the clock ticks 8am, some 18.7 million eligible voters will be able to start casting their ballots at 15,582 polling stations across the island. Voting finishes at 4pm.

Unofficial results are expected to be known by as early as 8.30pm.

Assuming Tsai wins, the world will witness another success of Taiwan’s fully-fledged democracy as such a victory would mark the third transition of power in what is a relatively young system.

Also at stake are the 113 parliament seats. And with 18 parties and groups, including the KMT and DPP, fielding 556 candidates, the KMT faces the very real prospect of losing control of parliament for the first time.

The DPP and small opposition parties in particular are expected to do well.

READ MORE: A force awakens in Taiwan: vote of sunflower generation could be pivotal in elections

Meanwhile, young people, fed up with what they see as frequent social injustices and a widening wealth gap, are likely to play an important role, with many first-time voters vowing to give their votes to young social activists

Many of these voters and activists have been influenced by the 2014 sunflower movement, which saw a couple of hundred students seizing the parliament chamber to protest against their government’s attempt to rectify a trade service pact signed with Beijing but deemed by them as hurting Taiwan’s interests.

Many of them also question the integrity of some of the DPP old guard in the legislature, believing they are no better than their KMT counterparts.

“So, after the election, it is the beginning of a tough task for the future president as she or he not only needs to address the domestic and cross-strait issues, but must also take note of the sentiment of the young generation,” said Yao Li-ming, chairman of the Citizen’s Congress Watch.