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Taiwan looks set to elect first female president as voters head to polls

Polls have opened in Taiwan, with voters expected to elect Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party as the first female president in the Chinese-speaking world. Such a result could damage ties with China.

Prior to the opening of polls on Saturday,

Tsai Ing-wen was well ahead of Eric Chu

- the candidate for the unpopular ruling party, Kuomintang (KMT).

Since coming to power in 2008, current KMT president Ma Ying-jeou has increased ties with China, which, despite splitting with Taiwan following a civil war in 1949, still considers the island to be part of its territory awaiting reunification.

'Democracy is our way of life'

Beijing had previously warned it will not deal with any leader who does not recognize the "one China" principle. The pact is part of an implied accord between Beijing and the KMT, known as the "1992 consensus" and the basis of warming ties.

The opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), however, is much warier of China than the KMT and is traditionally a pro-independence party, with no official channel of communication with Beijing.

"Democracy is not just an election," Tsai said at her last campaign rally on Friday. "Democracy is our way of life."

Support for the DPP and its 59-year-old leader has increased dramatically since 2014, which saw hundreds of student-led demonstrators occupy parliament for more than three weeks, in protest against trade pacts negotiated with China.

Economic problems

While fears over Taiwan's economic dependency on China continue to simmer, voters are also struggling to deal with low salaries and high housing prices.

Polls were expected to close at 4 p.m. (0800 UTC) local time on Saturday. Voter turnout has been over 70 percent since democratic elections began in 1996, and 18.78 million are eligible to vote.

Parliamentary elections were also due to be held on Saturday, with the KMT facing the risk of losing its parliamentary majority.

ksb/sms (Reuters, AFP)

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