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Taiwan polls get underway amid China's threat

Domestic issues such as the sluggish economy and expensive housing also featured prominently in the campaign

Taiwan polls get underway amid Chinas threat

Taiwanese are casting their votes on Saturday for a new president and legislature in an election that could chart the trajectory of the self-ruled democracy's relations with China over the next four years.

At stake is the peace and stability of the island 160 kilometers (100 miles) off the coast of China that Beijing claims as its own, to be retaken by force if necessary.

Domestic issues such as the sluggish economy and expensive housing also featured prominently in the campaign.

Vice President Lai Ching-te, representing the governing Democratic Progressive Party, known as the DPP, seeks to succeed outgoing President Tsai Ing-wen and give the independence-leaning party an unprecedented third term.

Lai cast his vote in his hometown of Tainan. He remarked on the sunny weather, suggesting it's a good time for Taiwanese people to go out and vote.

Hou Yu-ih, the candidate of Beijing-favoured Kuomintang, also known as the Nationalist Party, cast his ballot in New Taipei City, a municipality bordering the capital, Taipei.

Hou is the mayor of New Taipei, a position from which he took leave to run for president.

Alternative candidate Ko Wen-je of the Taiwan People's Party, who has shown popularity among young voters seeking an alternative to the two major parties, voted in Taipei.

Voting began at 8am (0000 GMT) on Saturday and is to wrap up eight hours later.

Candidates concluded their campaigns on Friday night with stirring speeches, but younger voters were mostly focused on their economic futures in a challenging environment.

Speaking in his hometown of Tainan in the island's south, Lai reflected on why he left his career as a surgeon because of China's missile tests and military exercises aimed at intimidating Taiwanese voters before the first open presidential election in 1996.

Hou, a former head of Taiwan's police force, said Lai's view on relations with Beijing could push the two sides to war.

China's military threats could sway some voters against independence-leaning candidates, but the US has pledged support for whichever government emerges, reinforced by the Biden administration's plans to send an unofficial delegation made up of former senior officials to the island shortly after the election.

Besides the China tensions, domestic issues dominated the campaign, particularly an economy that was estimated to have grown just 1.4 per cent last year.

That partly reflects inevitable cycles in demand for computer chips and other exports from the high-tech, heavily trade-dependent manufacturing base, and a slowing of the Chinese economy.

But longer-term challenges such as unaffordable housing and wage stagnation topped voters' concerns.

The candidate with the most votes wins, with no runoff. The legislative races are for districts and at-large seats.

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