He presidential candidate of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, William Lai (Lai Ching-te), took a clear lead in the vote count on Saturday, being elected as the new president of Taiwanafter China warned that electing him would lead to “war and decay” for the autonomous island.
Beijing has in the past criticized Lai, the current vice president, calling him a dangerous “separatist,” and on the eve of the vote, its Defense Ministry vowed to “crush” any move toward Taiwanese independence.
Communist China claims democratic Taiwan, separated from the mainland by a 180-kilometer (110-mile) strait, as its own. and says he will not rule out the use of force to achieve “unification,” even if conflict does not appear imminent.
With the ballots counted in more than XX percent of the polling stations, Lai, of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), obtained 41.6 percent of the votes, according to official data from Taiwan’s Central Election Commission.
His closest rival, Hou Yu-ihof the opposition Kuomintang (KMT), came in second place.
Nearly 20 million people were eligible to vote and turnout has yet to be announced.
Full results are expected before the night is out, with the outcome closely watched by both Beijing and Washington, Taiwan’s main military partner, as the two superpowers fight for influence in the strategically vital region.
Lai, 64, ran a strident campaign as a defender of Taiwan’s democratic way of life.
“This is Taiwan’s hard-won democracy. “We should all value our democracy and vote with enthusiasm.”Lai told reporters while voting in a school gym in the southern city of Tainan.
Hou, 66, of the KMT, favors warmer ties with China and accuses the DPP of antagonizing Beijing with its stance that Taiwan “is already independent.”
The KMT has said it will boost economic prosperity by maintaining strong relations with international partners, including USA.
“I hope that no matter how turbulent it was during the election process, everyone will come together after the election to face the future of Taiwan,” Hou told reporters after voting in New Taipei City.
The race has also seen the rise of the populist Taiwan People’s Party (TPP), whose leader Ko Wen-je has gained support with an anti-establishment offer of a “third way” out of the two-party deadlock.
At the campaign headquarters of all three parties, their supporters waited while polling stations across the island counted the votes by hand.
University student Su, a DPP supporter, said he hopes that one day Taiwan can be recognized by the world as a country.
“If war would happen no matter who we elect, electing the DPP can at least make it clear to the world that we did not elect China,” he said, while closely monitoring changes in the count figures.
Located at a key maritime gateway linking the South China Sea Overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Taiwan is home to a powerful semiconductor industry that produces precious microchips, the lifeblood of the global economy that powers everything from smartphones and cars to missiles.
China has increased military pressure on Taiwan in recent years, periodically stoking concerns about a possible invasion.
The Chinese president, Xi Jinping, He said in a recent New Year’s speech that Taiwan’s “unification” with China was “inevitable.”
As voters voted across the strait, AFP journalists spotted a fighter jet in the sky over Pingtan Island, the point in China closest to the main island of Taiwan.
The hashtag “Taiwan elections” was one of the top trends on Chinese social media platform Weibo before being blocked around 9:45 a.m. (0145 GMT).
Chinese fighter jets and warships scan Taiwan’s defenses almost daily and Beijing has also staged massive war games in recent years, simulating a blockade of the island and sending missiles into surrounding waters.
The Chinese military said the night before the election that it would “take all necessary measures to firmly crush ‘Taiwan independence’ attempts in all forms.”
The US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinkenmet with a senior Chinese official in Washington hours before the vote and stressed the importance of “maintaining peace and stability” across the Taiwan Strait.
Under Taiwanese law, the president Tsai Ing-wen He cannot run again because he has served the two maximum four-year terms.
In addition to a president, voters are also electing lawmakers to Taiwan’s 113-seat legislature.
(With information from AFP)