In Taiwan, Voters Select President as China Tensions Loom

Tens of millions of Taiwan’s residents lined up at poll cubicles on Saturday to decide that might reshape the island democracy’s more and more tense standoff with its far bigger neighbor, China: Who must be Taiwan’s subsequent president in harmful instances?

The voters are primarily selecting between the governing Democratic Progressive Get together, which desires to maintain steering Taiwan away from Beijing’s affect, arguing that that is the easiest way to maintain the island safe, and the opposition Nationalist Get together, which has vowed to broaden commerce ties and restart talks with China, arguing that this may cut back the dangers of conflict. A more moderen celebration, the Taiwan Folks’s Get together, has additionally promised steps to revive engagement with China.

Taiwan’s polling stations closed at 4 p.m. native time, and native information stations promptly started broadcasting dwell video of election officers counting the ballots. The outcomes, prone to be introduced Saturday night time, might ripple far past the island, which has turn into the only greatest flashpoint within the rivalry between China and the US. Any shift in relations between China and Taiwan after the island’s subsequent president takes workplace in Might might intensify or ease the tensions between Beijing and Washington.

In some locations, strains started forming at cubicles even earlier than the polls opened at 8 a.m., with many multigenerational households displaying up in teams. Taiwanese residents should vote in individual — no digital or postal ballots are allowed — and other people fanned out to achieve nearly 18,000 polling stations in temples, church buildings, group facilities and faculties throughout the island. Votes shall be counted by hand after the polls shut at 4 p.m

“Taiwan’s election for a president and vice president actually affects not just the future of Taiwan, but also of Asia and even the entire world,” mentioned Cheng Ting-bin, 56, a instructor who had simply voted in Taipei, the capital. “We all know that the world is now choosing sides.”

The race is tight. Vice President Lai Ching-te, the presidential candidate for the Democratic Progressive Get together, has been extensively seen because the front-runner. However Hou Yu-ih, the Nationalist candidate, has narrowed Mr. Lai’s result in only some share factors in lots of polls in current weeks.

And Ko Wen-je, the Taiwan Folks’s Get together’s candidate, holds onto hope of a shock victory propelled by voters fed up with the 2 established events. Mr. Ko’s celebration mentioned that his rally in Taipei, Taiwan’s capital, on Friday night time drew nearly 200,000 people.

In Taipei, Mr. Ko appeared together with his spouse at a faculty the place he voted alongside a throng of others, a few of whom had been carrying espresso as they quietly entered the cubicles to solid paper ballots.

Considered one of his supporters, Jessica Chou, 25, mentioned she thought that the D.P.P. had pushed Taiwan too near Washington, and that she hoped the subsequent chief would hold a distance from each the worldwide powers.

“I’m worried about China, but I also think that we can’t always rely on the United States,” Ms. Chou mentioned, as she got here out of the varsity the place she mentioned she had voted for Mr. Ko. “I hope that Taiwan can find its own strategically advantageous position.”

Many described the solemn weight of utilizing democratic means to determine which presidential contender ought to face their a lot bigger, autocratic and closely armed neighbor.

“I think it’s inevitable that my generation will face more clashes with China,” mentioned Chen Hsuan, 27, after casting her vote at an elementary college in Chiayi, a southern metropolis. “So I cherish the opportunity to vote today even more.”

She mentioned she voted for the D.P.P. and hoped the brand new presidency might broaden ties with democratic international locations.

On Friday night time, the events every held raucous election-eve rallies round Taiwan. In Chiayi, candidates from the three events drove marketing campaign vans round a big fountain at a circle within the metropolis’s downtown, yelling slogans and urging individuals to vote.

Giant crowds of supporters packed facet streets across the circle, waving colourful banners and large balloons. The parade was festive, with candidate vans enjoying thumping membership music, and several other supporters wearing inflatable dinosaur costumes for no obvious political motive.

Waving a small flag for the Nationalist Get together on the rally in Chiayi, Wu Lee-shu, 60, a clothes retailer clerk, mentioned she was involved about Taiwan’s security beneath the D.P.P. “I’ll vote for the Nationalist Party because I think it’s less likely that they would push Taiwan to war,” she mentioned. “I’m worried about letting the other party take power, but I’ll respect the results of democracy.”

The candidates have additionally debated home points comparable to housing and power coverage, and so they have traded accusations that their rivals engaged in shady land offers. However the challenge of China overshadows each main election right here.

Beijing asserts that the island of 23 million individuals about 100 miles off the Chinese language coast is its territory and has urged its individuals to just accept unification — peacefully, if attainable; by drive, if China’s leaders determine it’s vital. The US is by far Taiwan’s most vital safety backer, and has beneath Presidents Biden and Trump turn into extra overtly energetic in supporting the island towards Chinese language stress.

The D.P.P.’s presidential candidate, Mr. Lai, is making an attempt to win a third consecutive term in power for his celebration, one thing no celebration has achieved since Taiwan adopted direct presidential elections in 1996. He has promised to stay with the method of the present chief, President Tsai Ing-wen: retaining Beijing at arm’s size whereas searching for to keep away from battle, and strengthening ties with the US and different democracies.

Since Ms. Tsai grew to become president eight years in the past, China has escalated army stress on Taiwan. Chinese language jets and warships recurrently check Taiwan’s army, and that intimidation might improve, at the least for some time, if Mr. Lai wins. The Chinese language Communist Get together has particularly reviled Mr. Lai, who earlier in his profession known as himself a “practical worker” for Taiwan’s independence.

Mr. Hou has promised to ease tensions with Beijing, arguing that stronger ties with China — by means of commerce, tourism and public interplay — would assist cut back the danger of battle over Taiwan’s future. However even a victory for Mr. Hou wouldn’t dispel the deep political variations between Taipei and Beijing.

The winner of Taiwan’s presidential election may should take care of difficult politics within the island’s 113-member legislature, which additionally goes to the voters on Saturday. Polls have indicated that the D.P.P. is prone to lose its present majority of lawmakers, and the Nationalists could not acquire a brand new majority, presumably giving the Taiwan Folks’s Get together a strong position within the legislature.