Young voters could sway Taiwan election: opposition

TAIPEI - First-time voters could decide Taiwan's neck-and-neck presidential race, the opposition camp said Thursday, urging the young to show up on election day to help shape the island's future.

An estimated 760,000 out of a total electorate of 18 million will cast their ballot for the first time on January 14, having turned 18 since the last vote in 2008, and they could sway the outcome in the close race, observers said.

The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which has been reaching out to young people with a string of Internet and campus activities, said it hopes its candidate Tsai Ing-wen will bag more than half of the first-time votes in her bid to become Taiwan's first female president.

"Older voters have mostly made up their minds but young people's votes are still up for grabs. They could be the critical few to determine this election," said Lin Ho-ming, vice head of youth division in the DPP campaign.

"Young people can determine Taiwan's next step ... they want to see dignity on their own soil and they want to change Taiwan," said Chen Chu, mayor of Kaohsiung city and a senior DPP politician.

Young supporters of the DPP, which favours the island's independence from China, expressed concern that Taiwan had become overly reliant on China under the rule of President Ma Ying-jeou.

"I think Ma is putting aside Taiwan's sovereignty in order to please China and will lead us to unification with the mainland," said Tseng Yu-shan, a 21-year-old college student.

Candies Hsieh, a graduate student, said she supported Ma, arguing that he helped the island's economy via measures such as allowing in more Chinese tourists.

"I think Ma is clean and hard-working and he can maintain the stability in Taiwan. If we have a different leader everything will have to start all over again and that might be bad for Taiwan," she said.

Some young voters, on the other hand, blamed Ma for the island's widening income gap, the rising unemployment and the sluggish economy.

"Ma has been doing poorly in the past three years and we need a new leader who can bring a new vision and give us more hopes," said Kao Wei-sheng, 20.

Tensions between the former bitter rivals have eased markedly since the island's economy-focused Kuomintang government took power in 2008.

However, Beijing still claims the self-ruled island as part of its territory awaiting eventual reunification and has not renounced the use of force against Taiwan should it declare formal independence.