2nd Democratic Presidential Election for Taiwan

             On Saturday, March 18, 2000, voters will go to 13,457 ballot booths in the "free area of the Republic of China” that is Taiwan. Four years after their democratic presidential election and with their island's future still uncertain, voters in Taiwan will be choosing a successor to current leader Lee Teng-hui. The five presidential candidates are independent James Soong, the Kuomintang's (KMT) Lien Chang, the New Party's Lee Ao, independent Hsu Hsin-liang and the Democratic Progressive Party's (DPP) Chen Shui-bian (Fig.1). But as Taiwan's people prepare to choose only their second popularly elected president and perhaps transfer Taiwan's leadership to a new party for the first time in 51 years. The three leading candidates (Lien Chan, Chen Shui-bian, and James Soong) have been subdues, their rhetoric mild, and the tone tentative and cautious. The reason is China, 90 miles away across the Taiwan Strait (Fig 2). When the communists took control of China in 1949, the Nationalists under Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek fled to Taiwan, where they established the Republic of China as a government in exile and imposed martial law. China has considered Taiwan a renegade province ever since and has threatened to use force to bring about reunification. Four years ago, as Taiwan prepared for its first-ever direct presidential election, China rattled its tiny neighbor-and brought U.S. warships to the scene-by conducting missile tests in the Taiwan Strait. On February 21, 2000, less than a month before Taiwan's election on March 18, the Chinese struck again. This time they announced that foot-dragging on reunification had been added tot he list of things-international meddling or a declaration of independence are the others-that would trigger an attack on Taiwan. There are other issues in this year's election including corruption and election, including corruption and campaign finance reform, but the issue known as "cross-strait relation” is far and away the most important.

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