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SLUG: 2-314260 Taiwan Election (L)









INTRO: Taiwan's two presidential candidates are spending the day before the election on a whirlwind marathon of rallies around the island. V-O-A's Michael Kitchen reports from Taipei on the race and a controversial referendum about relations with China.

TEXT: Although Taiwan prohibits opinion polls in the 10 days before an election, observers say the race between President Chen Shui-bian and rival Lien Chan is extremely close.

As the candidates crisscross the island Friday to attend final rallies, overseas Taiwanese are pouring into the airports to take part in the island's third presidential election.

A few weeks ago, polls showed a majority of voters deeply concerned with domestic issues, including the economy, which has slumped for much of President Chen's four-year term in office.

But as in past elections, relations with China also play a major role.

When the Communist Party took over China in 1949, leaders of the rival Kuomintang, or Nationalists, fled to Taiwan, and the island has been governed separately since then. Beijing says Taiwan must eventually unify with the mainland.

But President Chen, head of the Democratic Progressive Party, has repeatedly emphasized Taiwan's sovereignty, angering Beijing.

Mr. Lien, who leads the Kuomintang, says that as president, he would smooth relations with China.

Complicating the election is a referendum that President Chen placed on the ballot.

It asks voters how the island should conduct relations with Beijing and whether Taipei should buy more weapons if China does not remove the missiles that President Chen says threatens the island.

Steven Chen, a senior foreign policy advisor to the Lien campaign, says the referendum is an illegal campaign ploy to make the president seem strong on China.

/// CHEN ACT ///

Article 17 of the Referendum Act authorizes the president to initiate a referendum only in times of emergency. But because he (President Chen) is obsessed with holding the referendum, he violates the law.

/// END ACT ///

But President Chen's top international affairs advisor, Legislator Hsiao Bi-khim, says passage of the referendum would give the government a clearer mandate.

/// HSIAO ACT ///

If we have a stronger public consensus demonstrated through the referendum, it will make it easier for the government to purchase the necessary defense weapons without the obstruction of the opposition parties.

/// END ACT ///

Both President Chen and Mr. Lien say they plan to seek talks with Beijing regardless of the referendum's result, and that the outcome will not necessarily change defense policies.

/// OPT ///

Also Friday, independent legislators forced the Taiwan Parliament to delay action on a measure to cut the number of legislators by half. The independents said the measure was being rammed through without proper consideration by the main political parties as a campaign ploy. (SIGNED)


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