Taipei (AFP) – Taiwan’s presidential rivals will hold mass rallies on Friday in a final push to convince voters ahead of a closely watched election that looks set to infuriate China and send ripples far beyond its borders.
Some 19 million people are eligible to vote on Saturday to choose between two leaders with very different visions for Taiwan’s future — in particular how close the self-ruled island should tack to its giant neighbour.
Beijing views Taiwan as part of its territory and has vowed to one day retake the island, by force if necessary.
But China is also Taiwan’s largest trade partner.
President Tsai Ing-wen, who is seeking a second term, has pitched herself as a defender of Taiwan’s liberal values against the increasingly authoritarian shadow cast by Beijing under President Xi Jinping.
“Choosing Tsai Ing-wen… means we choose our future and choose to stand with democracy and stand with freedom,” Tsai, 63, told reporters on Friday during a campaign stop.
Her main competitor Han Kuo-yu, 62, favours much warmer ties with China — saying it would boost the island’s fortunes — and accuses the current administration of needlessly antagonising Beijing.
“We want change, we want to rediscover happiness, prosperty and pride for Taiwanese people,” Han told a huge rally in the capital on Thursday night, the crowd in front a sea of swaying red and blue national flags.
Both candidates are planning final mass rallies on Friday night as they try to mop up swing voters for both the presidency and the unicameral parliament.
Taiwan bans the publishing polls within 10 days of elections but Tsai has led comfortably throughout the campaign. Her party currently has a parliamentary majority, which analysts expect them to retain.
“It would take a huge shift from the final polls for Han to win,” said Shelley Rigger, a Taiwan expert at North Carolina’s Davidson College.
– Pressure campaign –
Beijing has made no secret of its desire to see Tsai ousted.