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Taiwan votes in local elections amid tensions with China

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TAIPEI (RockedBuzz via Reuters) – Polls opened in Taiwan on Saturday for local elections that President Tsai Ing-wen said sent a message to the world about the island’s determination to defend its democracy in the face of growing belligerence of China.

Elections for mayors, county heads and local councilors are ostensibly about domestic issues such as the COVID-19 pandemic and crime, and those elected will have no say in Chinese politics.

Ma Tsai reframed the election as more than a local poll, saying the world is watching as Taiwan defends its democracy amid military tensions with China, which claims the island as its territory.

“Taiwan is facing strong external pressure. The expansion of Chinese authoritarianism is daily challenging the people of Taiwan to adhere to the bottom line of freedom and democracy,” Tsai told supporters on Friday.

China carried out war exercises near Taiwan in August to express anger over a visit to Taipei by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and its military activities continued, albeit on a smaller scale.

Taiwan’s main opposition party, the Kuomintang or KMT, swept the 2018 local elections and accused Tsai and his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) of being overly confrontational with China. The KMT traditionally favors close ties with China but staunchly denies being pro-Beijing.

“We advocate closeness to the United States, friendship with Japan, and peace with the mainland. Let Taiwan have a prosperous future of peaceful and stable development,” KMT chairman Eric Chu told his supporters on Friday.

The election comes a month after the 20th Communist Party of China congress, where President Xi Jinping secured an unprecedented third term in office, a point Tsai has repeatedly made during the election campaign.

While Taiwan’s election outcome will be an important measure of popular support for both parties, it cannot necessarily be read as a boon for the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections in 2024.

Tsai and the DPP soundly defeated the KMT in 2020 despite their setback in the 2018 local elections. His second term expires in 2024 and he cannot run again for president due to term limits.

Both parties have focused their efforts on rich and populous northern Taiwan, especially the capital Taipei, whose mayor, from the small Taiwan People’s Party, cannot run again after two terms.

Taiwan’s elections are a boisterous and colorful event, with candidates cruising their districts in the back of trucks and SUVs seeking support, music blaring and campaign flags waving.

There is also a vote on lowering the voting age to 18 from 20, which both sides support.

The election results should be clear by early Saturday evening.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Gerry Doyle and William Mallard)

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