Millions of Taiwanese voters headed to the polls on Saturday as incumbent President Tsai Ing-wen attempted to secure a second term against Beijing-friendly challenger Han Kuo-yu.

Polls for the presidential and legislative elections closed at 4pm as crowds of supporters swelled outside candidates’ party offices.

Local residents vote at a polling station at Linyuan District in Kaohsiung on January 11, 2020. Taiwanese voters headed to the polls on January 11 for a closely watched presidential and parliamentary election in which the island’s fraught relationship with China is taking centre stage. Photo: Hsu Tsun-hsu/AFP.

Tsai of the liberal Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has faced criticism from her main opponent, Han of the Kuomintang Party, who accused her of straining cross-strait relations. Han has instead campaigned for warmer ties with Beijing during the months-long race.

Voters have also cast their ballots in the legislative elections, in which 113 lawmakers – both regional and legislators-at-large – will be elected from dozens of political parties or as independents.

The Central Election Commission is expected to complete the vote counting by 10pm. However, candidates may declare a victory or loss beforehand.

The voter turnout will not be available until after the counting process has finished, the election agency said.

In the 2016 election, which saw Tsai first elected into office, 12.4 million people voted – at a turnout rate of only 66.27 per cent, according to official statistics.

Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen (centre) casts her vote on election day at Hsiulang Elementary School on January 11. Photo: Democratic Progressive Party.

But following a candidate-led push to draw out voters, a high turnout is expected in this election, with young people – including as many as 1.1 million first-time voters – returning home to cast their ballots. There are 19 million eligible voters in total, according to the Central Election Commission.

Some polling stations across Taiwan and its outlying islands – of which there are more than 17,000 in total – saw long queues when polls opened at 8am, local media reported.

Speaking briefly with local reporters after stepping out of a polling station in New Taipei in the morning, Tsai urged voters to “exercise their rights,” and “make Taiwan’s democracy stronger” through the ballot.

Han, who is currently the mayor of Kaohsiung – a port city in the south of Taiwan – also cast his vote in the morning. Accompanied by his daughter Han Ping, he departed shortly after voting without making any comments.

A third presidential nominee, James Soong of the People First Party, said after voting in Taipei that Taiwanese people will communicate their opinions through the election. He added that the people of Taiwan should be proud of exercising their democratic rights.

Taiwan presidential candidate Han Kuo-yu from the Kuomintang party rallies in Taipei on January 9. Photo: Han Kuo-yu/Facebook.

Wei Tsai-yun, a 50-year-old mainland Chinese woman who has settled in Taiwan for 25 years after marriage, expressed her confidence in the victory of the Kuomintang presidential candidate at the party’s headquarters.

She told HKFP that the Kaohsiung mayor had “achieved a great deal” despite having assumed office for only one year, including cleaning up underground tunnels and carrying out road improvement projects across the city. She also expressed hope that people across the Taiwan Strait could maintain peaceful ties without either side seeking Taiwan independence or unification with China.

Photo: Pei-ju Teng/HKFP.

Mr Chou, 55, a Taipei citizen who works in the services industry, told HKFP he had voted for Han mainly because he did not agree with the Anti-Infiltration Act, which was passed by the DPP-led legislature at the end of 2019 to curb Chinese influences in Taiwanese society.

The legislation, which Chou described as “the DPP’s self-isolation policy” could “hinder the future development of Taiwan,” he said. Chou said the legislation was “too vague” and would allow the administration to exercise its power as if “writing a blank cheque,” despite acknowledging that he had not looked into the details of the act.

Chou said he predicted Han could win the election by a narrow margin. He added the future of the cross-strait relations should be determined by later generations through long-term negotiations.

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Pei-ju Teng

Teng Pei-ju is a journalist based in Taipei, Taiwan, covering mostly politics and diplomacy.