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Taiwan's Ma wins second term as president

Agence France Presse - January 14, 2012

Benjamin Yeh Taiwan's Beijing-friendly leader Ma Ying-jeou secured a second four-year term as president Saturday, promising better ties with China after an election watched intently by the United States.

"We've won," a jubilant Ma, 61, told crowds of supporters gathered at his campaign headquarters in downtown Taipei after vote counting showed him securing 51.6 of the vote with 90 percent of ballots tallied.

"In the next four years, ties with China will be more harmonious and there will be more mutual trust and the chance of conflict is slimmer.

"I will ensure a sustainable environment for peace for Taiwan," added Ma, who in his first term oversaw the most dramatic thaw in the island's ties with China since the two sides split over 60 years ago.

His main challenger Tsai Ing-wen, a 55-year-old China-sceptic, conceded defeat after her disappointing showing and announced she would step down as chairwoman of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

"We accept the Taiwan people's decision and congratulate President Ma," she told her party faithful. "We want to give our deepest apology to our supporters for our defeat."

Tsai, who had been vying to become the island's first female leader, took 45.7 percent of the vote, according to unofficial tallies.

George Tsai, a political scientist at the Chinese Culture University in Taipei, said the result was a vote of confidence in Ma, who raised exchanges with China to unprecedented levels and introduced a sweeping trade pact.

"The outcome shows that voters generally approve of Ma's policies promoting ties and reducing tensions with China," he said. "He has a new mandate although it's an open question how fast and how far he can go in his second term."

By contrast, a win for Tsai could have ushered in a period of uncertainty in ties with China, as her DPP has traditionally favoured distancing the island from the mainland.

"The reason why the Chinese mainland is so concerned about the Taiwan election is because we are worried that the idea of 'Taiwan independence' will be further spread by the process, as it was in the past," the state-controlled Chinese paper Global Times said Friday.

Although China and Taiwan have been governed separately since 1949, Beijing still claims sovereignty over the island, and has vowed to get it back, even if that involves going to war.

Surveys published last week had shown the race would likely be too close to call, with Ma of the Kuomintang (KMT) party leading Tsai by as little as three percentage points.

The United States, had also kept a close eye on the election, hoping the outcome would not upset the stability that the strategically vital Taiwan Straits area has experienced since Ma assumed power in 2008.

A third candidate, former KMT heavyweight James Soong, 69, never stood any real chance of winning but his support base overlapped with Ma's and had threatened to steal precious support from the incumbent.

Officials had expected a heavy turnout, but official figures were not yet available.

Chang Poh-ya, chairwoman of the Central Election Commission, said Friday she expected about 80 percent of the island's 18.1 million eligible voters to take part in the election, compared with just over 76 percent in the 2008 vote.

The Ma camp counted on the support of an estimated 200,000 China-based Taiwanese businesspeople and their relatives who returned home to vote.

"I voted for Ma because I am doing business with China and I often travel there," said businesswoman Ane Wei at a polling station in Taipei. "It'd be more convenient for me and good for my business if he remains in office."

Ruby Yang, an office worker, said she had cast her ballot in favour of Tsai "because I want to see the first female president in Taiwan".

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