Taipei - Presidential candidates in Taiwan kicked off their final day of campaigning Friday, with the island expected to vote in its first female leader at this weekend's polls.
Momentum is gathering across Taiwan ahead of the pivotal election Saturday in which voters are expected to turn their back on eight years of rapprochement with China, as scepticism over closer ties grows.
Freddy Lim says young people don't want #Taiwan to become another Chinese territory, and look in fear at Hong Kong: https://t.co/kRDgfR8NKN— Kristie Lu Stout CNN (@klustout) January 14, 2016
The flagging economy is also a major issue, with the public blaming the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) for failing to improve livelihoods.
Tens of thousands are expected at Friday night's climactic rallies for the two main candidates, Tsai Ing-wen of the main opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) - who is the frontrunner for the leadership - and the KMT's Eric Chu.
"I believe that the DPP and I can stand together with Taiwan people to let Taiwan rise again," said Tsai, who is well ahead of Chu in the polls, speaking to supporters in central Taichung City Friday morning.
"It is a critical vote as it concerns where Taiwan is heading in the next stage and the direction of Taiwan's development," she said.
Hometown supporters rally Taoyuan's famous son Eric Chu at campaign concert in KMT stronghold #TaiwanElection pic.twitter.com/I59uhNyfsw— Tan Qiuyi 陈秋仪 (@QiuyiCNA) January 10, 2016
The DPP is traditionally pro-independence, flying in the face of Beijing's desire to reunify Taiwan with the mainland.
The island is self-ruling since it split from China after a civil war in 1949, but Beijing still sees it as part of its territory to be reunited, by force if necessary.
In a pragmatic move, Tsai has toned down the DPP's message on cross-strait relations, saying she wants to preserve the "status quo".
Thousands of KMT supporters out in force at pre-election parade rally one week to #TaiwanElection @ChannelNewsAsia pic.twitter.com/hU9NKINqB6— Tan Qiuyi 陈秋仪 (@QiuyiCNA) January 9, 2016
But opponents say China ties will deteriorate if she takes power after an unprecedented rapprochement under current KMT president Ma Ying-jeou, which culminated in a summit between Ma and Chinese President Xi Jinping in November.
"The United States, China and the world are hoping for cross-strait peace and regional stability. My election will give everyone faith and feel rest assured about Taiwan," said Chu, speaking to supporters in Taipei Friday morning.
The United States is Taiwan's major ally and has pledged to help defend the island.
Tsai's final rally will take place outside the presidential office in Taipei, while Chu will finish in New Taipei City, where he is mayor.
The third presidential candidate, veteran conservative James Soong, who is trailing behind Tsai and Chu, will be touring central Taiwan before a rally in Taipei Friday night.
Lawmaker hopefuls are also giving a last campaign push before parliamentary elections which take place alongside the presidential vote.
The KMT risks losing its majority in the legislature as well as the leadership.
As #Taiwan's voters prepare to go to polls this from Taipei Times 2000 seems as relevant as ever #TaiwanElection pic.twitter.com/Vq5niZnoqO— Gary Rawnsley (@GDRaber) January 11, 2016
Two #UmbrellaMovement leaders, Lester and Alex, visit #TaiwanElection to see democracy in action at Tsai's HQ pic.twitter.com/EG2XVtp8kr— YimouLee (@YimouLee) January 14, 2016