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Taiwan Voters Cast Ballots in Historic Elections


Taiwan's opposition Democratic Progressive Party, DPP, presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen greets supporters from the back of a truck as she parades through the streets of New Taipei City, Taiwan, Friday, Jan. 15, 2016.

Polls have closed in Taiwan, where voters cast ballots Saturday in elections that could bring historic changes to one of Asia’s most vibrant democracies.

Expectations are high that front-runner and opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate Tsai Ing-wen could become the island’s first female president.

Dealing with the island’s biggest trading partner, China, and helping strengthen a faltering economy and wage stagnation - particularly for young workers - are some of the challenges Taiwan’s next leader will face.

Tsai cast her ballot early Saturday morning at Hsiu Lang Elementary School just outside the capital of Taipei.

“We have done our best, now the result is in the hands of Taiwan’s voters,” she said. “I am confident, my whole team is confident and I believe all our supporters are confident.”

As Tsai left the school, supporters clapped and some shouted “Hello President!”

According to most recent polls, Tsai enjoys a double-digit lead over her Nationalist Party (KMT) contender Eric Chu.

“It’s 100 percent certain. We’re going to have a female president,” said one elderly voter, Lin Hsi–tsai. Lin said he’s hopeful that Tsai can help turn Taiwan around.

“Look at how expensive real estate is these days. Do you really think that younger people can afford to buy a home?”

Chen Tzu-hsuan, a first time voter, said it was exciting to cast her ballot.

“Men have a higher position than women in society and if Taiwan gets its first female president that will be a major breakthrough for relations between men and women,” Chen said.

The youth vote is expected to play a crucial role in the elections, not only for president, but in the legislature as well where the opposition DPP could win a majority for the first time ever.

“I am hoping for change and I believe there will be change,” said one elderly female voter surnamed Chen. “Our lives have been gloomy for the past eight years. We really need more focus on the basic issues of people’s livelihood.”

The KMT, which has been in power for eight years now in Taiwan and has always held a majority in the legislature has strengthened economic links with China.

The closer ties have boosted the island’s tourism industry, but have also raised concerns about over-reliance on the world’s second largest economy, which is seeing its slowest growth in more than a quarter of century.

Despite lagging in the polls, KMT candidate Eric Chu voiced his confidence Saturday morning as well. Chu and his wife cast their ballots at a polling station not far from where Tsai voted.

"I believe everybody is doing his best in the elections. We are all doing our best. We will stand until the last second,” Chu said.

China has not said much about the vote, but has said it will not work with any candidate who does not support the "one China" principle.

Taiwan and China split following a civil war in 1949. But Beijing still regards it as a breakaway province that will someday be unified with the mainland.